Taking the horse to water

“If we call for the proof and we question the answers, only the doubt will grow.”
~ Alan Parsons Project

Though not quite like that memorable character, the Dude in The Big Lebowski, I am quite lazy. That is why instead of typing out the quote from Karen Armstrong’s The Case for God in my recent post, I searched for it to do a bit of old ‘cut and paste’. I found it on a blog by Stephen Law, an Oxford philosopher. His review of the book was quite amazing.

He typed in the part about religion means practice and that religion and its effects will remain opaque to those who do not practice. He then went ahead, without a life long spiritual practice and argued against the proof of God on the grounds that various non-religious events produce psychological effects similar to religious awareness. It’s kinda like a virgin reading a book that says, “there’s no point in discussing sex until you’ve had some” and then merrily writing about sex anyway ‘cos masturbation produces the same effects (orgasm) as a good fuck. In fact it’s worse because Mr Law has not even engaged in the extensive pyschological exercises he asserts produce the same effects as religious practice. It fairly does my head in that people just don’t get this simple fact.

Mr Law suggests that ‘all’ life-long spiritual practice does is alter our psychology. No where does Ms Armstrong suggest otherwise. Nor do the spiritual traditions. To alter our psychology is the biggest thing we can do, indeed it is the only thing we can do and is the only thing that will sustain our physical changes and compassion in the world. What the spiritual traditions do say however is that our ‘psychology’ is far more than what is taught in secular Universities, that we are intrinsically co-arisen and interdependent with all that was, is and ever shall be.

There were 113 comments to his post, mostly by intellectual men righteously denying God. Ho hum. I didn’t want to come over all weird and esoteric, so added only this muted comment:

“OK, look, really we all know that religion isn’t going to go away. No matter how many atheist buses and bestsellers there are. And unless it changes it will continue to infect our institutions with bogeys like ‘creation science’.

This book and all of Ms Armstrong’s work is to try and mature these religious views. It counters crap like ‘creation science’. If every pastor, priest and layperson thought like Ms Armstrong there would be no need for ‘new atheists’. You should be buying her a drink for this book.

And sorry, you seem to miss what Ms Armstrong says so clearly in the quotation you provide. There is no point discussing religion and pointing to psychological equivalents. It needs to be practiced. Ms Armstrong makes NO metaphysical claims that many of your commentators go on to attack.

What she DOES say is that religion provides an extra element to the experiences you infer can be achieved by secular/psychological means, and that is compassion. The ritual group mind of a football game lacks compassion and is based on competition. This alone is why it is not religious.

And please be clear – you are only inferring that the various examples you give produce the same results as traditional depth religion, as you have no life-long practice of the later.”

If I had more space and time I would have highlighted the theme of compassion. Religion and by extension esoteric  religion changes us within a compassionate milieu so we may become more compassionate. This is its key function, its key purpose. But it will only work if we practice.



  1. Suecae · October 23, 2009

    Bravo for adding what to my mind is a bit of sanity to the discussion. I sometimes get caught in arguments, but it seems many atheists seem to get wrapped around debating their own preconceived notion of God, rather then the rich image of spirituality and God which I think many esoteric traditions have in common.

  2. Peregrin · October 24, 2009

    Hi Suecae,

    thank you for the kind comments. 🙂

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