Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The last word on miracles from spirituality...

I'll credit Douglas Adams, from The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy, with the basic line of reasoning:

The Babel fish is small, yellow and leech-like, and probably the oddest thing in the Universe. It feeds on brainwave energy recieved not from its own carrier but from those around it, It absorbs all unconscious mental frequencies from this brainwave energy to nourish itself with. the practical upshot of this is that if you stick a Babel fish in your ear you can instantly understand anything said to you in any language.

Now it is such a bizarrely improbable coincidence that anything so
mind-bogglingly useful could have evolved purely by chance that some
thinkers have chosen to see it as a final and clinching proof of the non-existence of God. The argument goes something like this:

"I refuse to prove that I exist," says God, "for proof denies faith, and without faith I am nothing."

"But," says Man, "the Babel fish is a dead giveaway isn't it? It could not have evolved by chance. It proves that you exist, and so therefore, by your own arguments, you don't. Q.E.D."

"Oh dear," says God, "I hadn't thought of that," and promptly vanishes in a puff of logic.

"Oh, that was easy," says Man, and for an encore goes on to prove
that black is white and gets himself killed on the next zebra crossing.

Most leading theologians claim that this argument isn't worth a pair of fetid dingo's kidneys, but that didn't stop Oolon Colluphid from making a fortune when he used it as the central argument in his book Well That About Wraps It Up For God.

Meanwhile, the poor Babel fish, by effectively removing all barriers to communication between different races and cultures, has caused more and bloodier wars than anything else in the history of creation.

The point is: if you hail from a religious tradition in which faith is paramount, in which it is required, indeed any "miracles" will render faith redundant, which undermines the religious tradition itself. The minute you point to some special transcendent activity of a supernatural being, that is the very minute you have declared that faith in things unseen is not required, and that is the very moment you betray your allegiance to the faith-based religious tradition.

If, however, you plead that one must have faith in the miracle, then you're back to square one, and you must admit that there is doubt that the transcendent has left a calling card.

And so, if for a moment you accept that what you have observed is not a miracle, admitting the doubt that it is not the transcendent activity of said supernatural being, then the possibility of alternative explanations presents itself. And the ethic of sincerity would demand, I would think, that these alternative explanations be examined. And if there is more support for the alternative explanations than for a miracle, what then? Do you become like Nietzche's madman in Thus Spake Zarathustra and proclaim the death of god from rooftops? Really? Is your faith that weak? Allow me to present some middle ground that is accessible, I think, to all.

"It is not how things are in the world that is mystical, but that it exists," I think (the Christian) Wittgenstein said. You exist. You live and breathe and have various senses. You are aware. Why would you want something more? Why is that not sufficient to help beings?

To Buddhists, greed, hatred, and ignorance are the three poisons, the source of all suffering; and the strongest poison in this regard is greed. (Christians could translate that to pride, itself a form of greed.) Trungpa Rinpoche, his character flaws and extreme alchoholic behavior aside, rightly pointed out that spiritual materialism is a form of greed. Spiritual materialism and spiritual hucksterism intersect at the point where the transcendent is entreated to make a show of itself, when the very breath being breathed makes anything else look like the existential equivalent of a McDonald's Happy Meal compared to the fare at a Michelin-rated eatery.

Why would you want anything more?

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