Southern Beliefs

I have never been able to accept a materialist account of reality.  I guess the brain weighs about 3lbs, wet meat, enclosed within the skull.  Yet what goes on in the interior of this organ is truly astounding; well if it goes on there at all, for perhaps what we call our minds, is non-local, not situated anywhere.  The human mind is truly a creative piece of work; for we humans are self aware, questioning creatures, seeking meaning in our lives.  I would suppose self consciousness is truly something astounding, and along with that the deep interior inner life, (invisible to all others) that humans live, only adds to the mystery.  It is our greatest blessing and at times it can seem to be a curse.  For because we are self-aware, and as far as we know, we are the only creatures on earth who are…. we can anticipate many things, our own death being one of them and perhaps worst of all, the fear of the actual dying process.

(Photo © 2011 DonkeyHotey/via Wylio)

We are all deeply inward entities even if we are at times unaware of it. For the only way we can understand the reality around us is through interpretations, something that is not often agreed upon.  I don’t think we actually create our own reality, but how we perceive it and live it, are based on personal insight or lack thereof.  So our beliefs are important; it also underlies the importance of seeking to deepen our beliefs and also at the same time to broaden them.  Knowledge lessens fear, especially of those who are different and walk a dissimilar path.  If communication is not always possible with those who walk to a different beat, well then, study is always promising.

On the level of meeting others and communicating different philosophical, theological and psychological paths (as long as the beliefs are not harmful to the over all culture), then they can be seen to be on the same footing.  When realizing that, it makes communication much easier.   The planet is getting way too small for different ideologies and religions to continue killing each other.  Though I am sure it will continue well into the future.  At bottom, I think we are an irrational and self destructive species.

Ideals and beliefs are important.  Some can be caustic, not only for those who hold them, but also for those who fall victim to fanatics of any kind who follow whichever kind of belief system.  It is hard to be objective when trying to understand someone else’s position.   We tend to veer towards those who belong to the same choir and either ignore or mock those of who have a different persuasion; well in any case I struggle against this tendency and am not always successful.  In fact, there are times when I think it is impossible and real communication between different groups is very spotty at best.  Well, again I am speaking from my own experience.  For I find it difficult to truly listen to someone who is different and easily slip into stereotypical thinking, which is very common, and perhaps even more so now.  There are so many internet ghettos out there today, that it makes me nervous.  Enclosed groups are infallible, or they think they are.

We are not just rational beings; no we also have feelings and intuitions to help us to navigate our way through life.   I think Ayn Rand, who I believe was a deep thinker and had something really important to say, was in the end wrong about her overemphasis on rationality and ego.  I was in my twenties when I started reading her, and I guess I spent a couple of years going through her works (my favorite being ‘the Virtue of selfishness”; except for the chapter on religion; by Nathaniel Brandon).  My least favorite of her writings, were her novels, though I did like her novel “We the living”.   It is obvious I am in the minority here, for her fiction seems to be selling very well at this time.   She had an airtight philosophy and I guess that was the problem.  I remember thinking when I put down the last book, that her private life must be in shambles. You can’t deny the irrational and focus just on the rational without some serious repercussions.  Both Nathaniel Brandon and Barbara (whom I have great respect for), his ex-wife, wrote books about Ayn, and did mention how difficult she was to relate to.  However, both still have a deep respect for her, which I think is well deserved.  I read her because I knew I am not overly rational, so I needed a philosopher like her to help me develop my own skills in rational objective thought.  If I have ever reached that objective, it passed by me unnoticed.  I try, but it is impossible to be totally objective for I bring my own bias with me, which at bottom are of course unreasonable.

I also suffer from a form of physic claustrophobia when I encounter someone who ‘seems’ to have a very closed and narrow belief system.  I need inner space to breathe, and I don’t think I am alone in this.  We use our beliefs as if they are protection from beginning to understand the deep mystery of life….who we are and in the end, why we are actually here.  I often find ‘some’ atheist and fundamentalist to be stuck in a suffocating belief system that makes any kind of real communication impossible.  I suppose that in the world of ‘debate’ it is these two groups who have the most fun debating each other.  Debate can be entertaining but I have never seen it really go anywhere.

I am a Christian, my heart belongs to Jesus, and I am not ashamed of that.  I also know that using my faith as a battering ram to try to force others to agree with me, is in the end, not only a waste of time, but harmful, and yes (again a Christian term) sinful.  Belief systems are hard won by many; so it is good to always show respect, while also trying to deepen the ability to actually to listen to another’s point of view.   Our words do not often change others, unless they are words of love, compassion and empathy, for the ones we come in contact with.  The same goes for our actions.

Each of us represents the group we belong to.  I remember in 1999, when I first got on the internet, the first thing I tried out was to dialogue with those of other faiths or no faith.  I have come to understand, that no matter what we believe, each group has its own ways of dealing with others.  Mockery and contempt is one of the main avenues taken, and it is often the rationalist that can come across the worst.  Perhaps it is because they look upon themselves as a very small minority and it makes them aggressive; which I can understand.  However it is really across the board the tactic of bulldozing those who are different.  The internet has allowed otherwise very nice people, to become bores of great magnitude and shallowness, which allows them to do so, by using identities that can’t be traced.

It is funny, religion is condemned because of the way it can and does in fact, often look down on unbelievers….yet those who bewail this, also do the very same thing when they belittle anyone outside their camp.  This kind of blindness, or double standard, is not unusual, that is why the world is in such bad shape, and I guess will not get better any time soon; if ever.  I am beginning to believe the only way this earth will attain peace is if we simply kill each other off, that way peace will rein; though there will be no one around to name it, or experience it.  Yes the last sentence goes against what I believe as a Christian, so in spite of it all, at bottom, there is always hope in the Grace and love of God at work in our hearts, as revealed in Christ Jesus.  As a Christian I speak in terms I am acquainted with and I respect other interpretations in how God works in the world.  I think the actual mystery is too large by far to be regulated to one way of seeing things, which is time bound and culturally formed.

I think one aspect of modern culture that will not go away and in fact is still growing, is the study of NDE’s and other phenomena,  that people have been having from the very beginning of time.  One book just out by Pim van Lommel, MD, titled “Consciousness Beyond life, the science of the Near-Death Experience”, which I think will have a profound impact on the study of NDE’s, is well worth the read.  While it is true that his book will not convert anyone, I believe that as time goes on, the real possibility of an afterlife will become the norm.  These studies are like revelations given to the common man, to bring back and try to teach us.  The lessons are powerful, if only we can listen.  I think I will write more on this book soon.  Who and what are we?  Perhaps it is in the personal inner experience that we have as human beings, which will lead us to some answers.

Science and faith are not at odds, and yes in the past there were mistakes, which go with any evolution of culture and religion; the point is to learn.  If God exist, then the world is also his book and science can only lead us deeper into the mystery, just as the study of the so called paranormal experiences that mankind seems to be rich with.  Yes there is a lot that goes on in our little three pounds of meat, stuffed into our heads, or is there more? Is the brain even located in the body or the brain for that matter?  Non-locality seems to an answer of those who study consciousness and cannot accept the materialistic interpretation.  We have too many instances were people have experiences that should be impossible if materialism were true.  So the mystery deepens, perhaps it is really open ended and we are only at the beginning of our journey.

Mark Dohle

Mark Dohle

I am 62 years old and have lived in the Atlanta area since 1971.  I am Catholic and my faith is important to me, yet as I age the mystery continues to deepen, so I read broadly and try to keep things somewhat open ended. I work with the aged and the dying. I was in the Navy for four years and I guess I am life of center when it comes to politics, but not too far left. Actually, I am kind of a political moron.

I am the third of  11 children; ten still alive, one died in in 1958, three days after birth.

  1. Tom Ferguson

    i’ve been re-reading Richard Dawkins’ book the God Delusion that I think you would find interesting and challenging to some of what you say here… tho Dawkins does use some mockery as you would expect. I always am puzzled how people tend to talk about belief or non-belief in “god” as if the definition of that word is a given. to me whether i believe in god depends on how the word is defined… if equated with reality, ALL, ONE, the ground of being etc; my answer is yes though i don’t feel compelled to use the word god to describe it, in fact it muddies the waters for me… if defined along the lines of fundamentalism (and alot else as discussed by Dawkins) clearly my answer is no. i like eckhart tolle’s definition of enlightenment (which is definitely not limited to the material): “to feel and thus to know that you are, and to abide in that deeply rooted state is enlightenment.”

  2. Tom Ferguson

    oh… and wanted to comment on Ann Rand also…. Naomi Klein’s book Shock Doctrine outlines where Rand’s thought leads us, which is noplace the average person would want to live.

  3. Mark Dohle

    I like what you said about God. Raimon Panikkar ( said that the word “God” is a generic term for different theories of theism. We have to think in concepts, so the ideas about God are no different. We encounter trouble when we think that our ideas about God are actually true and anyone else who disagrees with us is wrong, we are then dealing with simple human projections. When we forget that they are indeed projections pointing to something infinitely beyond comprehension then we worship ourselves and our own ideas.

    Dawkins speaks as a layman, when he speaks about God, religion, and those who are theist. I find many things he says quite childish and adolescent in nature. I feel that he is too black and white, simplistic in his ideas. If he would have spent a little more time thinking things through, instead of dealing with stereotypes, I think his book would have had better impact on the whole believers/atheist debate, which as it stands now, is quite boring and nothing new has been said for a long time.

    About Ayn Rand; while I respect her, I could never be a follower of hers, though again, I think I learned a great deal in reading her. Her writings were rational, while her private life, at least as far as I have read about it, was controlled by her unconscious, which is irrational and chaotic. A balance is needed, one that I have yet to find. I am not a logical thinker, though I try to be. I am more intuitive, but that is useless if I cannot in some way explain myself to others. I find overly rational persons, inhuman, and cold, who from my perspective try to destroy their humanity by overly rigid systems that rely almost entirely on rational thinking.

    Life gets more mysterious as I age, it is something that can’t be boxed in and codified, though we try, and perhaps we should, but I need things open ended, if not, I think I would shut down. That goes for my faith (catholic) or any other system that I find helpful in my search for the truth, which I feel, and actually know, has a great deal to do with love and not much else.

    I am not organized; I just write and see what comes out. When I was 50, I started writing, before that I hated it, now I need it to keep focus and inner balance. Sending it out, for me is simply part of the process. The internet is perfect for me in that regard. I am thankful to those in charge of this site who give me the opportunity to publish my ‘stuff’ here.

    Ok I am rambling, better quit while I am ahead.

  4. Mark Dohle

    One more thing. Yes Dawkins does say some important things as well in his books. Our enemies are our best teachers.


  5. Tom Ferguson

    i’m confused why you would refer to Dawkins as the enemy… makes it seem that you would defend your turf from an “enemy”, right or wrong! also, dawkins announces in his intro that by “god” he doesn’t mean the god that Einstein refers to (tho he wishes E. had used a different, less loaded, clearer word, just muddied the waters using that term)… he refers rather to the god that most people mean by that term & he quotes “established, respected” figures in the church to show that often their positions are quite outlandishly silly, fundamentalist… and that is a problem for democracy, a threat to democracy.

    i realize you don’t see yourself embracing this level but i have to ask, why call yourself a catholic? the official catholic point of view as put forth by its heirarchy is sexist, anti-democratic, theologically aligned with fundamentalism – dawkins quotes numerous absurdist positions taken by “respectable” church figures… seems to me that the “search for truth” is hampered when it must conform to a “catholic” or any other pre-position… again i know you’re not fundamentalist but i can’t understand why you feel the need to affiliate with an institution, esp. one with a sordid history and a continuing oppressive hierarchy.???? (but of course, aren’t they all).

  6. Mark Dohle

    Faith is something lived, it based on my relationship with Christ, which is one of ever deepening love and intimacy, which leads to an ever expanding relationship with others….though it is slow going, and yes I fail and begin again. The sacraments, the devotions and also the mystics like John of the Cross and others feed me. I also study other belief systems, which actually enriches my own.

    All institutions if they are around along enough have a sordid past….just look at the United States and some of the truly evil things we not only did in the past, but are going on now. No, quitting is not the answer for me, for it would cut me off from many others aspects about my faith that are truly life giving…..I don’t expect others, and you my friend to agree ;-).

    Dawkins thinks I am evil, irrational, weak and childish, just because I believe differently than he does. People like him are just part of the problem, stances like his, no matter who has them, be it a fundamentalist Christian, which by the way or in the minority, or an atheist who agrees with Dawkins and the other so called “new Atheists”, which is really a rehash from thinkers from the past. Contempt is the first step towards physical violence, for contempt for another human being is the seed; it is violence in it beginning stages.

    Sam Harris stated that he could see people being killed because of what they believed since dangerous beliefs (who would decide which ones are dangerous?) are a threat to the common good. Below is the quote:

    (Quote): The link between belief and behavior raises the stakes considerably. Some propositions are so dangerous that it may even be ethical to kill people for believing them. This may seem an extraordinary claim, but it merely enunciates an ordinary fact about the world in which we live. Certain beliefs place their adherents beyond the reach of every peaceful means of persuasion, while inspiring them to commit acts of extraordinary violence against others. There is, in fact, no talking to some people. If they cannot be captured, and they often cannot, otherwise tolerant people may be justified in killing them in self-defense. This is what the United States attempted in Afghanistan, and it is what we and other Western powers are bound to attempt, at an even greater cost to ourselves and to innocents abroad, elsewhere in the Muslim world. We will continue to spill blood in what is, at bottom, a war of ideas. (End quote)

    Ok to be fair to Sam, below is another quote on what he said later about this, though I am not sure he is being totally honest, just trying to cover his tracks. I am not condemning Sam for this, he is human after all. Governments in the past, that were anti-God, did in fact kill millions of believers; however again, it was the desire to control that was the culprit, for religions have done the same thing. In the name of God or the revolution, it does not matter; the end product is the same. Again, who decides which beliefs are dangerous, some religion or government? Objectivity in cases like this is an illusion.

    (Quote) “This paragraph appears after a long discussion of the role that belief plays in governing human behavior, and it should be read in that context. Some critics have interpreted the second sentence of this passage to mean that I advocate simply killing religious people for their beliefs. Granted, I made the job of misinterpreting me easier than it might have been, but such a reading remains a frank distortion of my views. Read in context, it should be clear that I am not at all ignoring the link between belief and behavior. The fact that belief determines behavior is what makes certain beliefs so dangerous.

    When one asks why it would be ethical to drop a bomb on Osama bin Laden or Ayman Al Zawahiri, the answer cannot be, “because they have killed so many people in the past.” These men haven’t, to my knowledge, killed anyone personally. However, they are likely to get a lot of innocent people killed because of what they and their followers believe about jihad, martyrdom, the ascendancy of Islam, etc. As I argued in The End of Faith, a willingness to take preventative action against a dangerous enemy is compatible with being against the death penalty (which I am). Whenever we can capture and imprison jihadists, we should. But in most cases this is impossible.”(End quote)

    Before a person can even begin to think of joining any kind of theist path, he first has to come to the conclusion that God exists, then it follows that if that is true, then religions, are mans seeking after God, also it can mean that man is responding to an invitation from the Infinite. So, theism means that God is in relationship with creation, it is not Deism.

    So, I accept Christ as a revelation, and I then choose to respond. It is based on trust, that the New Testament is based on the early experiences of the Risen Lord, it is not a myth. Of course not to believe in God, makes all religion perhaps look silly.

    The problem is people, not religions, nor politics, nor the family; these areas of life merely show our inward alienation and struggle to simply do what is right. Perhaps it is the ‘will to power’ that is the main culprit. Institutions want to survive, and will go to extremes in order to do that. So the Church fails because of that, not because religion is evil. I have contempt for politicians, but politics is not evil, nor I suppose are all those who hold office; I too can be guiltily of contempt and stereotyping. I do not in anyway think I am superior to anyone, I struggle everyday to live up to my ideals and fail.

    I have problems with people who constantly harp on the evils of religion, it is called scape-goating and but then forget the whole history of the 20th century, which is considered the bloodiest known to man. Religion had little to do with what went on during that time, and no I am not going to lambast Atheist (they are just normal people who come up with different answers than I do), for again, it is our own inner alienation that causes all the evil in the world, and power is the main cause of that, we can get drunk on that.

    In a world without God, in the end, it is the government that will become “that”, the sole authority on morality and yes justice. I am sure you have read “1984”, as well as the book “Brave new world”, both deal with this issue. Ones rules by fear, the other by pleasures, in the end it is the same, people lose their freedom.

    Who seeks power, who wants it? Those who want it desire it and are consumed by it and for the most part will do anything to keep it. The Catholic Church is no different I guess, for there have been time in our history in which that power was abused. Today, one just has to leave the church if its teachings are not agreed with. Hopefully the evolution will continue, where force is not used to make others believe.

    I am a man of faith, and I know many atheist, some of them are good friends. They are no more rational than I am, nor are they braver than me because they don’t believe in God. One of the things that keeps communication from deepening is the contempt shown from both sides, the boxing in, the general statements, that make of ones own private experience universal and yes infallible….you know that I mean. People complain about the infallibility of the pope, yet people speak as if what they say or believe in the moment is somehow absolutely true.

    Ok enough, thanks, it is good to write about this and I am thankful for your patience with me.


  7. Tom Ferguson

    Eckhart Tolle has an interesting view expressed in his book A New Earth and in many youtube videos, that Jesus and other “prophets” were saying something similar to what you said about words pointing at the infinite… he sets out a view of the world that ALL religions espouse in different words (but which most of their followers would reject) but to me Tolle’s words are much clearer and straightforward… his meaning can be found in the religious texts & rituals but surrounded by confusing and unnecessary baggage added on by disciples & followers who didn’t really get it… we are drawn to this idea of god and what that means is the experience of being, beyond words and thought, a felt experience of interconnection that can only be had by stilling the mind, dwelling as he said, in that deeply rooted state… a word for this feeling of interconnection is love and out of that state one behaves entirely ethically without rules or thought… the intelligence that is clearly present in every manifestation of the ground of being is obvious when one is deeply present as is the answer to the question what to do… out of stillness comes joy of life and eventually, enthusiasm in a course of action and always an awareness that the passing delightful dance of life is just that, not you… you are the eternal essence out of which that dance appears and into which it disappears.

  8. Mark Dohle

    Thank you for bringing up Tolle’s work, I have not read much of him, but the little that I have read is very good. I will have to look into him some more.

    We live in a world where communication between different religions is the norm, so it will bring up new questions for believers who are open to such a dialogue. I remember when I was 23, I read “The autobiography of a yogi” and my understanding of other paths was turned upside down. I remain a Christian, but God simply is, no one owns God, all we can do is take one step at a time and hopefully join hands with all who walk with us, no matter what their path.

    I take it for granted, that people are like me, and that their beliefs are hard won, through thinking, study and yes prayer.


Comments are closed.