Sunday, March 30, 2008

The 4 Horsemen


"On the 30th of September 2007, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens sat down for a first-of-its-kind, unmoderated 2-hour discussion." I have included both hours of the discussion below and there are many interesting topics that they cover. The one topic that was of particular interest to me was a part of the discussion that Sam Harris brought up when he talked about the types of experiences, that any of us can have, that have typically only been discussed within the realm of religion. The transcendental experiences of dreams, feelings of connectedness, feelings of awe and wonder, and other possibly life changing encounters with the great mystery of being.

Often these are brought out by certain theologians as "proof" of a god, particularly the Christian god. And since this is often the case the experiences themselves tend to be minimized or explained away by rationalists as some type of illusion, brain malfunction, wishful thinking, or simply not substantial enough to be included in a reasonable conversation.

Now if we don't include these experiences as proof of any particular god or assign any specific conclusion about said god, or enforce and claim that only one experience is valid, maybe there is a context in which we can explore the spiritual side of the human being that could be seen as valuable.

In my experience with religion it was often the arts which connected me the most deeply to a sense of something greater than myself. For some this might seem the most unlikely place, but in my study of science, particularly human anatomy and astronomy, I have felt a deep awe of having the gift of being present to witness such beauty. And in other contexts the love of a community brought me a greater sense of well being. And in the most personal the love of a woman and more specifically the love of my wife has brought to me experiences that defy description.

And then there are the times of awakening that a person can feel as they learn to hear and see beyond what is simply a rational motivation, but a deeply felt motivation to create, love, serve others, and find clarity for their lives. These have traditionally only been domains of religious teachers.

While I deeply respect and support what these men are bringing to the table, I am concerned that when religions begin to collapse under their own exaggerated claims, what structures and teaching will we have to serve as guides for the best of what humanity manifests in its own ability to love, create, and care, that is understandable by even the most simple minded? Because these tools don't seem to exist within a scientific model. And when we do describe them in scientific terms they seem to become something much smaller.

And so I leave you with questions and something to watch and listen to.

Here is the first hour of the discussion...



And here is the second hour...

1 comment:

Morgan Ashley said...

Richard,
Although I don't have time to watch the video clips right now, I think your thought about what will happen if there is not a place for people to explore spiritual experience is true. The thought world that tries to quantify and label things can easily kill the magic. Pinning a butterfly on a board can be beautiful to look at, but once it is stuck there, the spirit is gone. While science certainly has its place, I want to live from my heart and recognize the human EXPERIENCE as valid, whatever paradigms people use to explain that experience (as long as we don't let religion stick us on the insect board, too--that can happen just as easily). Why do we feel we have to define everything? I think it's a control issue . . . :-)
Good thoughts!
Morgan