Upon posting my interpretation of the Ace of Cups, I received a personal query from the Rev. Nemu asking me what I meant in declaring myself an “Atheist.” A fun exchange unfolded therefrom that we decided to share. Here are the emails, with Rev. Nemu’s in bold and my own in italics. Enjoy!
Tue, Jun 11, 2013 at 3:21 AM
Loving the posts as ever.
I like the fact that you are precise with terms when some readers are wooly – so I’m going to ask a question, and it is going to sound like a stupid one.
When you describe yourself as an Atheist, what do you mean?
I think it means a person who disbelieves in gods (and spirits?), but people use the word “god” in different ways in the US, Brazil and Indonesia, for example, in the church, the lodge and the temple.
I’m guessing you imagine some organising principle which means that cards drawn from the deck are significant, rather than just random (unless you admit ignorance, which would make you Agnostic rather).
Whether that principle is anthropomorphic or otherwise, or external to you or you yourself, or both at the same time, or some kind of intelligence which emerges in the relationship between people, I’m struggling to understand what that is if it isn’t a god.
And when you say “Give thanks for it”, who or what are you giving thanks to?
Tue, Jun 11, 2013 at 1:11 PM
Hey Rev. Nemu,
Thanks! It’s not a stupid question.
If you were to ask me, ‘Is everything conscious… or even unconscious (à la Freud)?’ I’d say yes, everything is recording.
If you asked me, ‘Do you believe that there is an afterlife?’ I’d say for life, yes, but not for the coagulation that I know as “I,” nor for any other coagulation that I have ever encountered.
If you were to ask me ‘Do you believe in one mind that created all?’ I would say, I don’t even have one mind. Life seems to other itself, and that includes the oceans and the mountains and the universes… or multiverses.. or whatever, because I don’t know. We’re walking recyclage. So are the beetles.
Spirits are not divinities. I wouldn’t say that I believe in them but I would say that I’ve experienced them — like playful poltergeist phenomena. I’ve also seen light where there shouldn’t be light that moves in odd ways. With both of these experiences, other people witnessed it, too, making it verifiable, and thus un-insane, as pertains to the experience of the phenomena. But then I’ve also had dreams wherein dead people told me things that were true… like dreamtime déjà-vu. I think this is because we’re walking recyclage, phylogenetic, Unconscious, inherited, haunted, repressed, etc.
So why Atheist in lieu of Agnostic — because gods need to be appeased. I don’t believe in gods that need to be appeased. And even if they were to exist, I’m pretty sure that I wouldn’t respect them anyway.
As for giving thanks… I pray at least twice a day — not to anything, or for anything (well, happiness, kindness, wisdom, to know what I don’t know, etc.) and I give thanks, too. I don’t do it to anyone necessarily, but when I do pray to a body, it’s either the moon or the ocean. I do these things because it makes me feel good as a practice. It makes me feel close to things or bodies that I want to feel closer to… but not to appease them.
Also, I sometimes curse the universe. When I curse, it’s always the entire universe, never a specific body, and I have no idea why. I write it long letters telling it how pitiful I consider it to be and calling it dirty names.
Finally, I say I’m an Atheist because I’m an Anarchist. And I call “it” “life” which I do believe loves to experience itself in as many forms as possible, and is its own love just because it is so insanely multiform… and that’s just the stuff that I know about…. which is nothing.
Hope that’s clearer. If you have further questions, ask, and it may turn into a post.
Wed, Jun 12, 2013 at 6:01 PM
I’m even less convinced than before! I think I’ll just run through this to point out where I disagree with your self-definition.
“If you were to ask me, ‘Is everything conscious… or even unconscious (a la Freud)?’ I’d say yes, everything is recording.
If you asked me, ‘Do you believe that there is an afterlife?’ I’d say for life, yes, but not for the coagulation that I know as “I,” nor for any other coagulation that I have ever encountered.
If you were to ask me ‘Do you believe in one mind that created all?’ I would say, I don’t even have one mind. Life seems to other itself, and that includes the oceans and the mountains and the universes.. or multiverses.. or whatever, because I don’t know. We’re walking recyclage. So are the beetles.”
We agree so far.
“Spirits are not divinities. I wouldn’t say that I believe in them but I would say that I’ve experienced them –“
You could be an Acreist or something — someone who doesn’t believe in anything — or that nothing is true everything is permitted. That’s basically where I stand on belief, but then your issue is the belief part, not the god part — why pick on gods in particular?
It is kind of like someone without a leg saying she doesn’t have a toenail.
“So why Atheist in lieu of Agnostic — because gods need to be appeased.”
This is the bit I’m really thrown by — where did you get the idea that the appeasing (or even respecting) is part of the definition of a god? Gnostics, as I understand it, do/did not seek to appease the demiurge, but they were not Atheists on account of that. Magick, for me, is about co-operating with gods rather than appeasing them – after all, you ask them (or their intermediaries) for their assistance – and sometimes they ask you too.
“As for giving thanks… I pray at least twice a day –“
I’m assuming this is just a turn of phrase rather than a philosophical position – but imagine giving chocolate without giving it to someone. You can give chocolate to yourself if you like, or you can give yourself a foot massage, but you can’t give a foot massage without a receiver. How can you give something without someone to give it to?
“Finally, I say I’m an Atheist because I’m an Anarchist.”
I’m also baffled by this – as if being an Anarchist makes you an Atheist by definition.
“No gods no masters” is a slogan of Anarchy, not a definition, and there were plenty of Anarchists who wouldn’t have adopted it – Dorothy Day, Tolstoy etc. I gave a talk earlier this year at an Anarchist conference, about scripture (this talk), in a track about religion and anarchy, run by the guy who wrote the book called “Christian Anarchism”. My anarchism is based on my belief (though I’d call it understanding) that there is some intrinsic ordering principle to the universe, and any authority imposed beyond that contains the seeds of its own destruction.
By the way, another speaker gave a really interesting talk about Anarchism, looking at what “archon” means, and according to him, it doesn’t mean ruler as such, in Greek, it means “principle” – which he interpreted to mean no principles (or rather no principle which trumps any other).
“And I call “it” “life” which I do believe loves to experience itself in as many forms as possible, and is its own love just because it is so insanely multiform… and that’s just the stuff that I know about…. which is nothing.”
I think that makes you a Pantheist, but I don’t think you’ll buy that.
Anyway, this is about definitions, not about what you should believe, in case you thought I was trying to get you to go to Mecca or something. Personally, I think the organising force of the cosmos is poetry, and some of it is so good that it pulls the universe into configuration with it. And I’d define myself alternately as Atheist, Pantheist, Christian (usually to Atheist Anarchists, but the angry stupid ones, not you), Daimista (in court proceedings), Taoist, Gnostic or even Thelemite, depending on who is asking, and my mood at the time.
There is a further point about the coagulations, but I’ll leave that for now.
Mon, Jun 17, 2013 at 9:41 PM
Hi Rev. Nemu,
OK. I’m beginning where we potentially diverge, but before I do I want to address the Tarot question which I missed the first time around. –
I have no idea how Tarot works. Experience tells me that it does, but I’m superstitious as to why. I consider it unwise as a topic of conversation, and ungrateful to the extent that it has done so much work for me over the course of my life. Most things don’t work. I ask myself why most things don’t work all the time. If something does work, I don’t question it. Instead, I try to practice it.
“You can be an Acreist or something — someone who doesn’t believe in anything – […] but then your issue is the belief part, not the god part.”
I think creation is always all the time. But I think consideration of “origins” is only ever useful as an exercise — like etymologies or genealogies – it’s simply a way to tell a story, frame an argument, and hopefully reveal a new face. It’s a useful exercise like thesis/antithesis/synthesis, but there’s nothing absolute about it. And in a very fundamental way, I don’t believe in origins, although I enjoy tracing them.
Which leads to belief… I really, really don’t like belief. It makes me uncomfortable and I’m frightened of anyone who professes to believe in anything. So, I am exactly like a person without a leg saying that I don’t have a toenail, but that’s because most people seem to be talking about toenails, and since I don’t have any, and that’s generally the topic, I either talk of toenails or I talk of nothing.
“This is the bit I’m really thrown by — where did you get the idea that the appeasing (or even respecting) is part of the definition of a god?”
Again, I feel like you have to work within given cultural confines. Most people are not speaking of Gnosticism when they speak of god(s), and so, by their own definitions, I am an Atheist. As for Magick, I am far more comfortable using the term “forces” than “gods.” But then, according to that logic, the economy, the media, the weather, the arts, the sciences, and technology are all magickal.
“How can you give something without someone to give it to?”
Why do I need to give to…? I’m thinking of Bataille’s extended meditations on sovereignty and potlatch. It’s not who has the most but who gives the most – and the “to whom” is almost irrelevant. I want a gift economy. I actually don’t believe in capitalist concepts of labor, which only exist because we believe. Service is power, overtly.
But I’m not even sure that this argument works with prayer and gratitude. The two “exist” only in the moment of enunciation, as an act, like an oath or promise.
“’No gods no masters’ is a slogan of Anarchy, not a definition, and there were plenty of Anarchists who wouldn’t have adopted it – Dorothy Day, Tolstoy etc….”
Maybe. It really depends on your formulation of god. Most mono-gods sound like assholes to me, and even if they did exist, I wouldn’t pray to them because I judge them. Hypothetically, if there is a hell, and god is punitive, I’ll go ahead and go there. To that end, I am absolutely astounded that people worship out of fear. I’m equally shocked that they put up with bosses and spouses they hate because of fear. Why? Why? Why? It makes my brain hurt.
Your talk is awesome. I am not anti-parable or myth, and I obviously use the Bible whenever it suits me…. just like everyone else… though I confess to having no idea how any Christian could be a Capitalist, even with a manipulated translation. That is MAGIC! Or, quite technically, some species of insanity.
“By the way, another speaker gave a really interesting talk about Anarchism, looking at what ‘archon’ means, and according to him, it doesn’t mean ruler as such, in Greek, it means ‘principle’ – which he interpreted to mean no principles (or rather no principle which trumps any other).”
“–Archy” I’ve always taken to be government, rule, or rank. ”Principle” certainly works and I agree that no principle trumps any other. For me though, that has something to do with the march of history and the mutability of man. It’s also a bit performative/declarative, by which I mean – any stabilized subordination of one being by another will make me potentially murderous/dangerous/unstable/untrustworthy to that power which subordinates – and that goes for a big daddy idea of god, too. Punishment, even as a concept, makes me really angry. I’m anti that. I think it’s pathetic.
So, if god “rules,” then I don’t believe at all. If god is whatever we don’t understand, then I “believe”… that we don’t know, and as we encroach on god, our unknowing expands. God is in it, not outside of it.
“I think that makes you a Pantheist, in my book, but I don’t think you’ll buy that.”
I buy it. But I don’t understand the difference between Atheist and Pantheist. It’s a slightly different positioning as to what one communicates by the label – but they dovetail, I think.
“Anyway, this is about definitions, not about what you should believe […] And I’d define myself alternately as Atheist, Pantheist, Christian…”
This makes sense to me, and I understand the definitional issues, although I’d never describe myself as a Christian because of the weight of Fundamentalists in the US. I can’t. It would be a recipe for misunderstanding. I also don’t like that Christ said he was the one way. Is that a mistranslation, too? It wouldn’t surprise me…
Depending on who I’m addressing, I’ll call myself an Atheist, a Pantheist, or a Mystic – in that order, from public to private. Saying anything beyond “Atheist,” publicly, does make me feel exposed. There are certain conversations that I really don’t want to have. Obviously, this isn’t one of them.
“There is a further point about the coagulations, but I’ll leave that for now.”
Wed, Jun 19, 2013 at 4:12 AM
“Why do I need to give to…? […] But I’m not even sure that this argument works with prayer and gratitude…”
I suspect not, but I know nothing about Bataille, and tend to avoid French philosophers except the Tarot masters — and even they are a bit wordy for me.
“Hypothetically, if there is a hell, and god is punitive, I’ll go ahead and go there. To that end, I am absolutely astounded that people worship out of fear.”
I think it is the other way round.
We fear first, so we create gods who desire our fear. They are still real gods, meaning they still have powers, and they punish and get jealous and all the rest, but they reflect us. We want to be dominated so we are, and our prophets transcribe horridly evocative poetry about how much trouble we’re in. It is like a kid in his bedroom conjuring up monsters under the bed, except they really bite. Tragic. We should be busy making gods of love and art.
All these gods reside in Netzach.
Beyond that they are cleaner.
“This makes sense to me, and I understand the definitional issues, although I’d never describe myself as a Christian because of the weight of Fundamentalists in the US.”
The first bit – that’s kind of the nub of it. We define ourselves in opposition to what we hate. In England, we don’t have anything like your US Christian Fundies. Our Christians are shamefully liberal if anything, certainly not belligerent,and probably better informed than yours. Actually, our most belligerent faith is Atheism — Dawkins, Randi, even Sue Blackmore — whose book is brilliant, but I saw her talk the other day, and wasn’t impressed at all.
That is partly why I am troubled by that definition — if I’m honest — like you and your bugbears.
Crowley used all kinds of ruses to describe himself as that thing which was hated in his time, partly to keep fools away, and partly, I think, because he had an abrasive sense of aesthetics. I call myself a Christian, sometimes, to force a reappraisal of what Christ was talking about in those who have enough patience to listen or who know me well enough to not ignore me without some thought.
If you want to really rock the boat of a Fundamentalist, you can labour your points of contact rather than your points of divergence. And if you know some bits of the Bible better than them, all the better; they rarely know any Hebrew. Some of the words in Genesis regarding the snake, the god names and all that, the word “evil” as used in scripture – they are enough to make a Fundy deeply uncomfortable if explained, but they aren’t going to do that if they have already clocked you as an Atheist in the grip of the devil.
I say that, but I recognise that stupidity is a very powerful force – it might not work in many cases.
And about “I am the way, the door etc.” — I haven’t looked deeply into it, and it troubles me as well. Perhaps it is like saying he is universal, like a mouth. Without a mouth, you don’t eat, though “mouth” is said differently in different languages. This would require some thought and study though. I think, fundamentally, Christ is a criss-cross, the charge between two entities, and maybe they need not be people, but anything, even atoms. It is in the transference that you find god – the point at which your boundary, your definition if you like, is breached.
Concerning coagulations — It is unrelated, but I suspect that the Spiritualist church and Mediums generally tune in to coagulations — clumps of thoughts that exist in the astral after the thinker has passed on, either into nothingness or into another body, or atomised and distributed into other bodies, depending on how you see it. So, when the Medium gets hold of Auntie Mavis, and she remembers some detail, the wallpaper in your bedroom or something, it is not her, but some very indefinable intelligence, speaking through a Mavis shaped microphone, to communicate something helpful to you, powered by the love that the universe has for itself.
And I think towns have the same. There is a great story of a woman, maybe a German, who went into a coma and woke up speaking with a Spanish accent, remembering places that were verified, and how to do things she shouldn’t have known how to do — like pour wine with wineskins and so on. But whilst an investigation verified a lot, the person had never existed — as if the town clump made her as a mouthpiece for collective memory.
When I was sick in the Amazon, I was attended by a 400 year old slave incorporated in the body of a Medium. But I don’t think she ever existed (though the Medium clearly did). I think she is some manifestation of the folk memory of the slaves, used to facilitate communication between me and something else. So, about coagulations, I think our thoughts are sticky, and bind to others of a similar rate of vibration in the astral.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 at 4:24 AM
“I think it is the other way round. We fear first, so we create gods who desire our fear.”
Well, that’s a depressing thought. And from where does our fear and desire for domination come?
“We define ourselves in opposition to what we hate. […] That is partly why i am troubled by that definition, if I’m honest…”
Yes. Your Atheists also seem overwhelmingly… uhm… of a certain, rare class – white men with ample cash who behave like white men with ample cash. They act like bullies, grown-ups of the worst sort policing imagination and fantasy. The insistence that everyone be the same seems wonky to me, too. Shouldn’t we be smashing traditional religions so as to better practice difference?
“If you want to really rock the boat of a Fundamentalist, you can labour your points of contact rather than your points of divergence.”
In my experience, stupidity trumps intelligence almost every time. It knows no limit.
I actually value my own pleasure far too much to ever search out a conversation concerning religion with anyone who claims certainty. What could we possibly talk about? I also don’t mind being in the grips of what they formulate as the devil. They’re right. I am everything they consider evil and abominable. I want to be.
Interestingly, the Fundamentalists are consistently illiterate here. You know they claim to like Ayn Rand, right? Which, if your brain wasn’t aching before, it should be now. Ayn Rand and Jesus couldn’t be more opposed, and yet both would be equally scandalized by their followers in the US, none of whom have bothered to read either one. Hahaha.
Finally, there’s a movement here called One Church which is really insidious. It looks like anything from this to this and it’s terrifying to me. It started with my generation, unfortunately, and has continued to spread like a cancer. These people are real. I have spoken with them. Repeatedly. It did me no good.
Honestly, with the strength of Fundamentalist Christianity in the US (here’s their latest victory courtesy of Fox News) I don’t see how anyone, even in what the US deems the center (which is far right everywhere else) could use the title “Christian.” It’s so charged and deadly… I actually tattooed an upside down cross on my ankle with a sewing needle when I was 15 it’s been such a… cross to bear.
To that end, I have qualms with, and fear of, most religious terminology – and that goes for “Medium,” too. But hang on…
“It is unrelated, but I suspect that the Spiritualist church and Mediums generally tune in to coagulations, clumps of thoughts that exist in the astral after the thinker has passed on…”
This I have some experience with, but I’d change the terms a bit. “Spirituality” is pretty problematic for me, too, as I actually think we’re material but our senses aren’t refined enough to pick up on everything. I don’t see why we need any distinction between the spiritual and the corporeal – and for me, my most “divine” moments have all been profoundly corporeal.
Life consumes life, so we quite literally are these coagulations.
Thu, Jun 20, 2013 at 9:51 AM
I suspect that the point of this universe, if there is one, is for the unconscious to become conscious, i.e. to know itself. To know yourself is to know your powers, which are infinite. Ultimately, we are omnipotent. So we begin ignorant, for otherwise there would be no task and no time. As such, we are under the impression that we are helpless and we naturally deify authority, and push (or rather suck) the psychopathic and greedy amongst us into positions of power. Then we demonise them when they fail to meet our expectations, which of course they cannot i.e. – royal families, powerful businessmen, Justin Beiber, even poor Julian Assange, who really has got a rough deal from British activists. Given a few cycles of the pain and disappointment of Samsara, perhaps we learn to lose the illusion of not being responsible for our fate.
This is a hope, not a belief.
Incidentally, this urge to give over authority, rather than owning it, is why I dislike contemporary Marxism so much… even more than I dislike Capitalism.
“I actually value my own pleasure far too much to ever search out a conversation concerning religion with anyone who claims certainty.”
I enjoy rather too much the taste of blood and the lamentation of my enemies. Just explaining to the sons of Protestantism the degree to which the very constipated Luther’s theology was derived from his battles with Satan in the toilet is really quite fun. They won’t believe you — until you give them sources.
(By the way, I’m talking about real conversations, not typed ones. You can’t resolve typed ones.)
His interest in the subject began in the mid-nineties with a knock on the door from the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and encompasses the history of apocalyptic movements, the impact of new discoveries on society through the ages, the neuroscience of perception across different cultures, and the instances of psychoactive drugs in the pages of the Bible.