Wednesday, June 9, 2021

On Medium: The Gall of Imagining God’s Reality

Here's an article about how when we think philosophically about religion, the creeds become absurd but so do our secular pretentions and ambitions since they're mocked by the unsettling suspicion of God's nearness.


  1. All of these questions hang on what definition of God you are using. Though I suppose, at a minimum, you mean a perfect being who exists by definition rather than contingency with all that implies: uniqueness, omniscience, omnipotence, & omnibenevolence. The thing is that if such a being did exist we could be certain that it had no hand in creation & so could not be held responsible for us or be expected to intervene in our affairs.

    I'm aware of only a single man in all of history who was intrepid enough to take the above theistic definition of God to its logical conclusion & live his life as if it were true. When confronted with the choice between a world that appeared utterly bereft of divinity or believing in God, Joel Solomon Goldsmith chose God at any cost. He was an honest theologian -- a near oxymoron in my experience. Below are some of my favorite quotations of his. As you read them keep in mind that Joel was no atheist; he was raised as a secular Jew but went on to become an influential Christian mystic who authored over 50 books of mysticism.

    "To pray that God overcome the evil conditions on earth is a waste of time. If He has not stopped the calamities of the world in all the thousands of years past, He is not going to stop them tomorrow."

    "It is a state of ignorance even to have faith in God, because that is based on the belief that there is a God who can do something and there is no such God."

    "The God of most people on earth is a God that punishes evil and rewards good, and there is no such God."

    "Because of the infinity of God, all that is, is already omnipresent. It is impossible for God to give or send us anything."

    "Nothing happens outside the activity of mind—not a thing. If it did, there would be nobody aware of it."

    "...the entire spiritual life is based on the rejection of appearances."

    "All the evils of this world are nothing but pictures in the mind."

    "We are not to attempt to get rid of the appearance. We can no more get rid of an appearance than we can get rid of the mirage on the desert. We can only see through it and understand it to be a mirage, and then go on about our business."

    "Can you believe that there is God and sickness, too? Where would God be while someone is suffering? Human parents would never permit a child to suffer from a disease if they could prevent it. Would you let your child suffer? Then why do you think God would? It cannot be. In reality, there never has been a sick person or a dead one. Everybody who has ever lived from the beginning of all time is still alive—it could not be otherwise. Unless you accept this truth, you are really an atheist and believe that the world sprang up out of dust, that it is going to return to dust, and that there is no God."

    Goldsmith was a uncompromising anti-empiricist. Realizing that the world of the senses (which he called 'appearances') could never be reconciled with our intuitive knowledge of God, he refused waste any time with theodicy & instead declared every statement about the external world, be it good or bad, false by definition. This went way beyond the Hindu concept of Maya, which at least concedes God's role in it. It even goes beyond New Thought, which asserts that our thoughts actually have some influence over reality. God is the only reality and our thoughts, prayers, wishes & even our actions have no power to change anything.

    I've never been so fascinated with a man I disagreed with so profoundly on every level. I think I'll be trying to wrap my mind around Joel Goldsmith for the rest of my life.

    1. I see from his Wikipedia page that his views were based on Christian Science idealism. That certainly is an extreme viewpoint, and treating illnesses as illusions rather than seeking medical treatment would indeed be an authentic application of theism.

      I'm struck by the question of how far we should be driven by fictions, as they inspire our choices in life. Goldsmith's kind of platonic theism is, of course, just a myth, not at all a science. It's a story you can tell to feel better about the apparent suffering in the world. There are lots of stories, some making more sense than others, depending on the culture and the local history, family background, geographic and climatological factors, and so on. We might make fools of ourselves by taking some stories literally or by applying transparent fictions with too little humility or self-doubt.

      Is it possible to work towards an ultimate goal without being inspired by mere fictions? And is it possible to take a story seriously without making a fool of yourself? Don't we all seem foolish from a foreign perspective, and doesn't the existential pessimist appreciate that universal absurdity from the alienated outsider's perspective?

    2. Goldsmith did begin as a Christian Scientist but later left that church over differences. Upon first reading him I really had him pegged as a CS just by some of the terms he used, but soon realized his was a philosophy all his own. For one thing he tended to express his views through syllogisms (despite his insistence that God could not be known through thought) which contrasted sharply with Mary Baker Eddy's unreadable word salad approach to writing. There are deeper differences as well, but that would be straying off topic.

      I don't think it's possible to pursue a goal without resorting to fiction for the simple reason that every goal is a fiction until it is accomplished. How seriously you want to take that fiction depends on how seriously you take the goal. Any fiction is going to seem foolish to those who don't accept it & live by it; even the shrewedest application of realpolitik must seem a ridiculous waste of intelligence to a mystic or a mathematician. In the end what's practical is whatever helps us achieve whatever goal we've chosen, which entails accepting a story. Look at supposedly hard headed, no nonsense scientists like Steven Pinker & Ray Kurzweil & consider how pie-in-sky their goals must seem to equally hard headed, no nonsense declinists like Morris Berman & John Michael Greer. I guess the lesson is that if you want to pursue anything of significance in this world you must be willing to swallow the Kool Aid (preferably sans the strychnine) & make a fool of yourself.

    3. Yes, a goal is in some sense fictional, but so are the stories we tell to motivate us and make us believe the goal is worth pursuing. Our values and ideals are myth-laden; they swarm with human constructs, simplifications, and idealizations that don't match up with reality.

      In any case, we need to commit to our fictions, which entails that we make enemies in standing up for our stories against rival ones. Artists shouldn't be afraid to offend.

  2. Have you seen the YouTuber "No Avail"? (Here's the link: He's the one who wrote those two articles I had shared earlier which defend pessimism and sort of criticise life affirming views. I think he also claimed that value pluralism led to his conclusions. Since he has covered some topics similar to yours, you might find him and his blog to be interesting (it's called antibullshitman, I think). He and I had a debate on his blog a while ago. It was fun, but unfortunately he eventually stopped replying.

    To digress a bit, I was wondering if you could share your views on the claim that all happiness is just the result of inducing "serotonin/oxytocin" in our body. I was arguing with a pessimist who essentially claimed that we are all "addicts". My response, in brief, was that this definition of addiction is far too vague. Normal addictions are bad because they prevent us from having a good life. But valuing genuinely good things isn't bad (though obviously chasing superficial pleasures isn't good either). It's irrelevant which biological process leads to those experiences, since suffering is also a biological relation. To me, it seemed like an attempt to devalue the positives of life. The person also claimed that parents are responsible for everything bad that happens in a child's life including his death, since they created him. My response was that accountability and responsibility must be reasonable. I defended the position that parents are not acting with any malicious intent towards a non-existent being. They are working on the probability of the person having a good life. The parents are, therefore, only creating thay being. They aren't harming them. If another person harms someone, it's generally bad as that would prevent their life from following its usual course. But that's not even possible if a person doesn't exist. Furthermore, this conclusion could also lead one to believe that everything good that happens in a person's life is because of their parents, even if the parents weren't the best.

    Sorry for the long comment, but I figured that you were the right intellectual to ask about this, since I am pretty much a layman about most of this. I hope you have a great day and a wonderful life!

    1. I haven't seen that YouTuber's videos.

      I find that extreme pessimists base their views more on mental illnesses such as depression or bipolar disorder than on arguments. The arguments serve as rationalizations of certain illnesses or failures. That's not to refute them by pointing to such psychological factors, but we should be aware that dealing with the arguments may be fruitless.

      To say that happiness is an addiction seems to say little more than that there are biochemical underpinnings of happiness. The same can be said for any mental state, including pessimism or depression. Are we equally addicted to every mental state, even the ones that conflict with each other, just because they have neural causes? For that matter, is every physical cause "addicted" to achieving its effect?

      If we stay closer to the actual meaning of "addiction," we may certainly be addicted to some forms of joy, via dopamine rushes. We often seem addicted to the internet or to our smartphones, for example, since they're designed to be addictive and to release regular doses of dopamine, as we check our inboxes and so on. Happiness is broader than moments of joy or relief, though. But this is a semantic issue about how "happiness" should be defined.

      Regarding antinatalism, there are different kinds of moral evaluation. We can look at the character (virtue theory), the intentions (deontology), or the effects of our actions (consequentialism). The antinatalist focusses on the effects since we know that all life ends in death, and parents typically have positive intentions; therefore, regardless of the parents' intentions, to have a child is to produce a person that will inevitably die (and probably suffer too).

      That's true and it sounds bad until you add, as you did, that life isn't generally so one-sided. In part that's because we adapt to our circumstances and adjust our expectations so that even poor people aren't constantly depressed. (This was the point of Camus' interpretation of the Sisyphus myth.) Thus, the probable effect of having a child is that you're producing a mixed bag, as it were. There are pleasures and pains in life. Death is inevitable, but lots of pleasures are at least probable or possible. So we'd have to look at those effects too.

      And who knows how to balance the value of painful mental states against that of pleasurable ones? They're not really quantifiable.
      Moreover, there are mixed mental states, as the animated movie "Inside Out" shows. There are bittersweet mental states, with higher-order pleasures based on pains. Think of stewing in melancholy or an experience of awe. (In an extreme case, there's sadism.)

    2. Thank you so much for the elaborate and insightful reply. Although, that's always been your forte, I suppose!

      "Higher-order pleasures based on pains". I think that this, in many ways, alludes to the complexity and depth of human emotions that many pessimists either downplay, ignore, or even even ridicule. I've always found those experiences to be quite ethereal. Just today I did quite poorly in my exam (guess this is what happens when you're reading Schopenhauer instead of equations on the night before a test). But somehow, the joy of meeting my teacher after a long while trumped the disappointment of not doing the best. It's not as if the feeling disappeared, but it seemed to coexist under a greater good. Though this is a more everyday example, I've definitely seen this apply in many different circumstances.

      On another note, I would like to humbly request you to make a post detailing the life-affirming position for many laymen like me. Your blog is obviously filled with such gems of wisdom, but having a single summary of shorts would be of immense value to many of us in times of need. Thank you so much for everything that you do. Hope you have a great day!

    3. That would be an interesting challenge, to write a strictly life-affirming article or to summarize my more optimistic views. I'll have to think about it.

    4. Thanks,I look forward to reading it :)

    5. The first draft is done, incidentally. It's called "How Pessimists Should Avoid Nihilistic Despair." The subtitle is: "And be uplifted by pantheism, comedic absurdity, and technological progress."

      This won't be the last uplifting article I write. There's more to say than I could fit into this one.

    6. Haven't been this excited for something since the release of Endgame :p I am glad to see that title. I dislike the fact that pessimism is being appropriated by "some" people (*cough* Gary *cough*). Having a more nuanced perspective is vital restoring some sense in contemporary society.

      And of course, your writings are sufficient proof of your innumerable insights.