Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy

    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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The ultimate fallacy: God is inside, God is all and everything

Posted by robertpriddy on September 27, 2009

The weaknesses and redundancy of the conception and belief in God – mainly considered as an outside (creative) cause or force acting upon the universe and mankind has been demonstrated convincingly by Professor Richard Dawkins in his accessible book ‘The God Delusion’. However, there is a yet more numinous and mind-twisting conception of God as the Omnipresent Creator as Inner Motivator of the cosmos/universe and mankind.  In short, that everyone is God, the belief which underpins the teachings of most gurus and even most Hindus. This difference is not simply between theism and pantheism. It is a complex form of pan-theism. The excellent Dawkins has not ventured into this philosophically tortuous territory, not yet.

The predominant idea of God in societies and cultures known to us in historical times has formerly been that of theism or deism… one God who created or creates – and maintains – the universe and who is ‘outside’ of the visible or physical universe and also beyond the human mind. (The “invisible old man in the sky” is the vulgar Western version). It seems to me there the demise of such unsustainable ideas and beliefs is inevitable – particularly in the doctrines and dogmas of traditional organized religions and sects. However long that may take (and if our species survives), the ever-growing and all-pervading importance of science as both an explanatory and a practical instrument of mankind promises a major sidelining of religion.

However, the resurgence of mystical ideas of an inherent ‘inner divinity’ has already gained huge territory, both in so-called New Age religions and forms of ‘spirituality’, not least in India, from where it has evidently originated long ago. It is promoted by the very popular but fraudulent guru-god, Sathya Sai Baba. A simple pantheism arose from animism in the shape of ensouled nature, one great Spirit ruling over all others which lurks in all objects and beings. This was found in many variants among many so-called ‘primitive tribes’ and societies, and is still found in some today. In its modern clothes, it is far more sophisticated and unitary. Meanwhile, millions of devotees of Indian priests and gurus need no sophisticated explanations. Yet their modern descendants are still often easily taken in by the subtle convolutions of a highly-developed system of ‘non-dual’ (i.e. advaitic) arguments, – fallacious though most of them are – even many highly educated people in the East and increasingly so in the West. Its highest expression is perhaps in various presentations of Advaita (one good example is the ingenious but ultimately failed ‘anti-theory’ in Sri Nisagardatta’s book ‘I Am That’). Witness also the Sathya Sai Baba movement – consisting reportedly in some millions of believers with organisations in over 170 countries of the world, a striking example of the popularity of this ‘I Am God, You are God, Everything is God’ conception. The appeal of this tortuous and almost unfathomable philosophical tautology is immense on so-called ‘seekers of truth’ with a mystical bent.

These variants of pan-theism regarding many deep issues about our true nature, philosophical teasers and unusual phenomena which remain otherwise unexplained. Despite the verbal and ideological sophistication and seeming explanatory power, all forms of pantheism are seen to be self-defeating as soon as one rounds up the whole labyrinthine conception. (The apex in philosophical pantheism being the system of Spinoza, and the teachings of Indian advaitists from Adi Sankara onwards – while the New Age variants are all merely derivative and rationally weaker than the originals)) One might call it the ultimate exercise in empty circular reasoning with its various supporting ideologies – but the circle is extremely wide and has many deep involutions. Its winding theoretical dead-ends can, however, have most serious consequences for persons’ lives, and also for the life and prosperity of entire nations (India having for ages been strongly affected towards religious fatalism and social injustices in this way).

Professor Dawkins is seen as a threat by the ‘Church empires’ [Roman Catholic, Anglican, and diverse Christian-oriented sects], which have been vastly weakened in the modern age. Their insuperable inconsistencies and increasing ‘spiritual hollowness’ has been – in many people’s minds – replaced in much of the world by a much more personal (hence plastic) ideas of God. These allow independence of worship and personalised versions of a supposed ‘universal omnipresent God’ and ‘universal divine values’. On the one hand, by the influx of superstitious religious peoples due to globalisation and not least the Internet, we are – on the one hand – witnessing a somewhat similar reaction as that which occurred when Roman civilisation and learning crumbled before the huge wave of fanatical Christian ascetics, anchorites and their supporters, as described so poignantly by Gibbon. On the other hand, a vague kind of mystical-spiritual universalism which is not anti-scientific or anti-secular is seen in many movements, for example in the belief of many in the “Jedi religion” and a plethora of New Age and spiritualistic beliefs.

The next phase in the struggle of religious faiths to survive may well be the rise of pseudo-religious spirituality in which God will increasingly be taken as an ‘inner reality’, as the inner reality – as the creator and motivator of both ‘the mind’ (i.e. minds) and its product. At the same time, that God can also be considered to be ‘behind’ what we experience as external causes – which are viewed as mental forces created ‘within’ God and through matter (which is conceived as ultimately some kind of mental-spiritual product), through biological evolution and even through an evolution of ‘souls’ entering a series of separate (biologically evolving) bodily incarnations.

Further, according to mentalistic (as opposed to physialistic) theories, the universe is conceived as the self-creation of mind, not of matter. This implies a philosophy of ‘mentalism’ as opposed to ‘physicalism’, which is the basis of many Eastern religious streams and Christian ‘mystical’ thought and – though in considerably weaker versions – in its peripheralized forms Western philosophy. The substitution of this kind of ‘spirituality’ for traditional forms of theism is likely and has already begun (if one considers the influence of Eastern thought in the West especially since the 1960s). A swing towards belief in the ‘inner God’ would not be the logical consequence of science, of course, but of the same psychological, social and emotional needs that created dependence on an external God. In fact, with mentalism, one can have one’s cake and eat it – for many now believe that ‘God is everything and everyone’. Of course, this is logically wholly untenable, but taking into account the many-sided ‘teachings’ of advaita and similar systems, demonstrating this in detail becomes very tricky.

The complexity of the ‘theory’ of such a God is not to be underestimated for it has very considerable resources (though they remain chiefly mental and not demonstrable experimentally or otherwise than by argument). This is already the basis of a widespread ‘spiritual-religious’ resurgence, represented by various so-called New Age ‘religions’ and relying largely on Eastern conceptions found in Buddhism, Hinduism’s advaitic philosophy/belief system and other kinds of ‘mysticism’ with historical roots in virtually all mainstream religious cultures.

A second feature of this kind of  ‘monistic-pantheism’ is that it is highly oriented towards esoteric practices and less concerned with theorising. To exercise ‘spiritual practices’ is the be-all-and-end-all of this resurgent religiosity. Such practices include the simplest forms like prayer (the more ‘automatic’ recitation usually), constant repetition of the supposed ‘names of God’, of mantras and other verbal or oral sounds (devotional singing included). At a more evolved level we find the concentration on self-analysis and social action as an expression of one’s inherent divine nature – offering up all one does to God and ensuring that one acts according to supposed ‘divine commandments’ of one tradition or another. The most sublimated form of these ‘spiritual practices’ are those of service to mankind (regarded as service to God) – that is, doing good work selflessly. The red thread in all of this is to enforce and reinforce the idea of an invisible deity, one who it is assumed can be influenced and moved or reached somehow (as in self-induced trances or temporary ecstasy).

The inherent purpose of all these forms of ‘spiritual practice’ (Hindu sadhana) is claimed to be the attainment of identity with the Divine – or, worded differently, realisation of one’s own inherent and true nature as God. (There are many difficulties with this concept, of course – such as whether it should be a part of God or God per se!). This mysticism and its impracticality is extremely difficult to penetrate, not least because the claim is that one must commit totally to it for a very long time to achieve its fruits.

One variant of this kind of spiritual belief system is the ‘All is God, God is everyone and everything’. This makes God equivalent to all being – so one cannot distinguish anything or anyone from God, not can one distinguish God any more than one can distinguish energy per se. In fact, one could substitute the word ‘energy’ with ‘God’ and vice-versa… as some do. The obvious difference that springs to mind, however, is that the concept of ‘energy’ is so very thoroughly and precisely defined and demonstrated – not least through the Einstein’s relativite and modern quantum theory… whereas the idea ‘God’ is totally non-pragmatic and non-utilitarian. This amorphous thinking has no distinguishable referents and ultimately amounts to nothing but an all-encompassing terminology of terminal vagueness.

Schelling’s conception of the Absolute was reduced to a mere featureless identity, ridiculed by Hegel as “the night in which all cows are black.” Indeed, the conception of eternal cosmic Divine unity as a transcendent reality also suggests a light so bright that no white cows could be visible, nor anything else! This reminds of an amusing but undeniable tautology ‘Everything is Everything’, empty of all but a vestige of meaning (Note: Advaita – a variant of philosophical ‘mentalism’ – holds that matter is a mind-created ‘illusion’ (Maya) which is actually emptiness. Hence we get the crown of absurdity in  “Everything is Nothing and Nothing is Everything” – Sathya Sai Baba). This surely represents the most inclusive tautology conceivable? Indeed, meaningless verbiage which says nothing of anything (and anything of nothing?).

See also on atheism, agnosticism, non-theism and secularism – distinctions drawn


2 Responses to “The ultimate fallacy: God is inside, God is all and everything”

  1. kiran said

    Advaita is not circular reasoning. It is also not about mental being superior to material. Since you have some philosophical training, if you wish to understand Advaita properly, you can approach it from linguistics. The quintessential element is the difference between form (word) and essence (meaning).

    What imparts meaning to a word ? Does a word innately and implicitly have a meaning, or is the meaning attributed by something else (termed as consciousness) ? Now can that “something else” be described by simpler words ? Advaita says that as you walk down this road, trying to reduce words with simpler and simpler words, you’ll inevitably encounter a paradox. There is the abyss staring at you and you cannot reduce meaning to words anymore.

    In fact, a similar roadblock has been encountered in mathematical logic through the theorem of incompleteness of Kurt Godel. This is better digestible if you’ve a background in computer science or AI.

    Physicalism is just another form of reductionism, trying to reduce consciousness down to physical entities or laws. In the crudest form, this philosophy resembles atomicism (of the Greek or the ancient Indian “Vaiseshika” variety), trying to reduce everything to physical blobs or particles called matter. Modern physics makes this treatment untenable. In the more sophisticated version of physicalism, where consciousness is attempted to be reduced to a set of “physical laws”. This enters the territory of computer science and logic that has been ransacked by Godel years ago.

    The meaning that you attribute to the word “God” is entirely upto your own choice. If you wish to import Judaeo-Christian imagery with this word, it is fine. But that may not help convey you the essence of the Advaita system. It is better to use the true Sanskrit words “Brahman” (etymologically, that which grows), “Atman” (self) etc.

    Reply from Robert C. Priddy

    Meaning is not as simple as you presume. It is derived within a vast context, always expanding, which includes not only linguistics, semantics, pragmatics etc. Meaning is essentially a person’s perception of experiences of something most vital, the fullness of meaning and its relative vitality. The meaningful nature of anything depends on the connectedness of ideas which bear value to us. None of these ideas can arise without perception of others, learning language, interpreting experience – in short, the world as variously known to each of us, including the world of the mind. Advaita struggles to express what is inexpressible, even according to itself. It is a huge tautology, delineating what it asserts cannot be deliniated… in short, essentially ‘talking on empty’.

    Physicalism is not just “another form of reductionism”, as you put it so strangely. It is based on the most fundamental human experience, of living life in the world and understanding the causes of what happens or is done by human beings (motives). I have no conception of God other than as an empty word, an expression of unsubstantiated beliefs. I am far from any Christian ideology!
    There is no evidence whatever, anywhere, that consciousness is not dependent upon the neuronic activities of the brain. When the brain does not function (as when fully unconscious) then consciousness is absent. Godel’s theorem does not destroy the extremely advanced researches into the minute functioning of the brain and how it is correlated to our experiences. As technology advanced, more and more of the so-called ‘mysteries’ of consciousness are being revealed, and in terms of physical events.

  2. […] The ultimate fallacy: God is inside, God is all and everythingIn “Creationism” […]

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