Dr. Dana Sawyer’s Biography of Spiritual Giant Houston Smith |335|

Discussion in 'Skeptiko Shows' started by Alex, Dec 6, 2016.

  1. Alex

    Alex New

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    Dr. Dana Sawyer’s Biography of Spiritual Giant Huston Smith |335|
    by Alex Tsakiris | Dec 6 | Spirituality

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    Dr. Dana Sawyer’s career studying religion and transcendence made him the perfect biographer of Huston Smith. [​IMG]
    photo by: Skeptiko
    Alex Tsakiris:
    Today we welcome Dr. Dana Sawyer to Skeptiko. Dana is a professor of religion and philosophy at the Maine College of Art and the author of Huston Smith: Wisdomkeeper: Living the World’s Religions: The Authorized Biography of a 21st Century Spiritual Giant.

    Dana, it’s great to have you here. Thanks so much for joining me on Skeptiko.

    Dr. Dana Sawyer: Thanks for inviting. Great to be here.

    Alex Tsakiris: So on the back of this book cover, people are going to find a blurb of the Dalai Lama. First of all, I don’t imagine that the Dalai Lama gives out a lot of book blurbs, but he did for this one, and what he wrote is really, I think, interesting. He said, “Huston Smith is an outstanding authority on the world’s religions because he has put so many of them into practice and discovered their real taste.”

    Who is Huston Smith?

    Dr. Dana Sawyer: Well, one time the Christian Science Monitor referred to him as religion’s rock star, and he was certainly that. For more than 50 years, Huston Smith was the most renowned scholar of The World’s Religions in the world. He had written a book in 1958 called the Religions of Man, that’s now called the World’s Religions, to correct that mistake of non-inclusive language, but that book has never been out of print since 1958. The vast majority of college students or people who went to college and have ever taken a course on world religions read that book; that was the textbook.

    That was a breakthrough kind of book for Huston, but it was also a breakthrough book in the academic study of religion because prior to that book, most people felt like the job of an academic was to deconstruct religion, and explain to us in modernist terms why religion was over with and why we are better off without all that silly superstition. Huston started in a very different place, which was rather than judging the religions, he simply wanted to be a good academic and describe them and that’s what he did. In that book, each chapter is written in such a way that a believer of that particular tradition would be nodding their head yes like, “(Inaudible 2:30) Hinduism he is describing currently. This is what I feel.” And then in the next chapter he does that for Buddhism, et cetera, so that’s one of the answers you can give…
     
    Last edited: Dec 8, 2016
  2. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Alex's question at the end of the podcast:

    Do the "exoteric" (as Houston Smith calls them) aspects of religion make it worth preserving, cherishing and protecting -- or is the baggage they bring enough to cause us to seek out a new way to access the esoteric, the mystical, the transcendent?
     
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  3. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Do the "exoteric" (as Houston Smith calls them) aspects of religion make it worth preserving, cherishing and protecting -- or is the baggage they bring enough to cause us to seek out a new way to access the esoteric, the mystical, the transcendent?

    I think that exoteric aspects of religion are much more to do with societal needs for group identity than with esotericism. When we understood the world in comparatively uninformed ways, i.e. didn't have much of a clue about it from a scientific perspective, then, because we have such a great need for some kind of explanation of reality, we didn't have much choice but to start constructing a religious take on it.

    That said, I think that always underlying the religious view of reality is a spiritual impulse that originates in our deepest nature. I mean, we have never been inclined as a species to proceed without speculating as to meaning, and have felt impelled to generate various kinds of explanation. This is a fundamental drive for us: we've never been able to resist the temptation to explain things we have no certain knowledge of, and the first attempt at that comprises religion and its dogma. Thus, in a way, religion was the first attempt at producing a science of reality. Only around the time when the great civilisations began to emerge (and perhaps they emerged in part precisely because of this), did explanatory elements begin to arise in terms of logico-scientific methodology. The Greeks, the Persians, the Indians from antiquity had always investigated mathematics and science, but they didn't know enough not to mix it in with religion, which latter, in a sense, filled in the gaps.

    In history, religion, right up until the enlightenment, dominated the mix. Materialists see the enlightenment period as representing the dawn of something completely new, something that could at last liberate us from the dark ages of superstition. However, I don't think that's quite true. Still, even today, there's an element of storytelling and dogma in our societies that extends even into ostensibly "hard" science, which could be seen as the natural development of religion. Science could be seen as forming a continuum with religion, and as not having yet been able to dispense with confabulation.

    All along, beneath all this has been the primal urge to understand our world. Where does that come from? What is it that makes us relentlessly seek out meaning? I think that we could be approaching a new kind of enlightenment, where the esoteric comes to dominate the scene, becomes the next stage in our development. It will be a stage where we don't reject scientific understandings, but rather come to appreciate science as a necessarily imperfect (albeit very useful) way to understand reality. It's only because materialists think that science is the ultimate tool to investigate the world that they think of science as being a replacement for religion rather than part of the same continuum.

    To summarise, the primary esoteric drive of human endeavour has always been to understand. That is what generated religion and science, both exoteric interpretations of the world. I think that as a species we're gradually approaching something closer to an appreciation of the esoteric. Which is not to say that throughout human history there haven't been individuals who achieved more in that direction than the average person today.
     
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  4. Every religion is two religions in one. There is the religion described through language (developed by intellect), and there is the religion that is understood from experience. The latter is common to many different religions because its source comes from our humanity, our natural spirituality.

    Language doesn't explain religious experiences in a way that helps you understand them before you experience them. Language can only help you recognize that what you have experienced is something someone else experienced too and described in a way peculiar to their culture. I used to think Spiritualism and Buddhism were describing different realities. One full of beings of light and love, the other nihilistic numbness, and I puzzled over which was true. But eventually I realized they were both about the same thing. Spiritualism tells you that love is the object of spiritual development. Buddhism tells you how to cultivate compassion by dispensing with the ego. Ultimately, they are the same thing, but if you only understand the writings, you might not see it that way.



     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2016
  5. Mediochre

    Mediochre Member

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    If I understood the definition of "exoteric" right in the interview it meant the structure of a relitgion. I.e the Pope, then the Cardnials, then the Arch Bishops and so on. If that is true then it is the reason why religion should be thrown out. The exoteric is merely a control structure by which some people attempt to force their will onto others. If someone doesn't like the dogma then they are just "evil." That is all I have ever seen or experienced from any form of hierarchical structure, even in the cases where it appeared to be helping me. I cannot ignore the fact that in order for me to gain something someone else had to have something taken from them against their will by force. Immdiate or defferred it doesn't matter.

    As far as I'm concerned people only cling to religions and other forms of authority because they never want to grow up. They want those "cosmic parents" that Dana described. They want someone they can cry to when things don't go their way so that thing can make it all better for them. It's the same reason people bow down to governments that take away freedoms for the hollow promise of security. It's just that governments are a more purified form of such an ideology with the real world ability to act. It's not even like people can argue they don't know this pattern by now. Aristotle even noted that "Tyrants first appear as saviours." To be honest it's incredibly difficult for me to see people who desire such controls over themselves as equals to myself. I see them as having no inner strength, and thus being more comparable to animals acting on feral fight or flight responses than intelligent, thinking beings with free will. I know how narccissistic that is, but it's still the truth.

    Exoteric structures may be the well trodded paths up the mountain but is their destination really the one people want to be going to anymore? After all, those paths wouldn't've always existed and it would've taken people with a great deal of determination and personal interest to want to put in the effort of clearing those paths for others to follow. History shows a common pattern of "to the bold go the spoils" and to the meek goes, well, whatever the bold don't want. I would argue that the well trodden paths only have ever existed as means of controlling the masses. Or more accurately, a mens that the masses uses to enslave themselves while crying that someone else is doing it to them. Since the pattern goes that the masses don't really put that much personal effort into their own lives and instead stick close to established structures. Following others instead of trying to understand themselves. It is no wonder then that exoteric religion would have been so popular since it's fundamental message is "You're a special person." I would bet the masses put that message there themselves out of their own laziness.

    A message someone like myself violently rejects at the deepest levels of my being but apparently is the most amazing thing to many other people. I personally would rather be in a hopeless situation surrounded by enemies so long as it was my life. Even if I had brought such a situation upon myself, it is more valuable to me that I am living my own life and making my own choices rather than material wealth or achievements. My life is, in my eyes, completely worthless and meaningless objectively. I only care about it in relation to goals I'd like to try achieving that have "being alive" as one of their parameters. But otherwise I don't really place any degree of value on my personal safety.

    Through that I was able to achieve quite a lot when I was younger. But also because of it that I lost it all and have had to restart. I've repeatedly injured myself by over training because I am never satisfied with the limitations I'm forced to endure. Despite the setbacks I quite like the fact that my willpower is far stronger than what my body can handle.

    I find this is in direct contrast to "exoteracists" who obsess incessently about safety in one form or another. Whether it's safety from eternal damnation or safety from "temptation" or plain old physical safety so they don't "waste their life."

    All this despite knowing that they're just going to die anyways in the end and all their attempts at staying safe and healthy and all that will be rendered moot. The same goes for anything else they're trying to stay safe from. They would probably do better to simply enjoy their lives rather than treating them like a job they could be fired from at any time that they don't get paid enough to do anyways.
     
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  6. David Bailey

    David Bailey Administrator

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    What happens when their religion tells them to forcibly convert others to their faith. More generally, "practising your religion" isn't always a private matter without external consequences. I suppose that 20 years ago it was possible to see religions as private (provided you ignored history, or assumed that history had somehow worked itself out), but it simply isn't any more!

    David
     
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  7. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    From Dictionary.com:

    Exoteric:
    1. suitable for or communicated to the general public.
    2. not belonging, limited, or pertaining to the inner or select circle, as of disciples or intimates.
    3. popular; simple; commonplace.
    4. pertaining to the outside; exterior; external.
    Exoteric doesn't mean entirely without worth. Many with a simple understanding of religion are in fact very good people, and, when push comes to shove, capable of great courage.
    Not laziness. More like fear on the part of ordinary believers, instilled by the exotericists who exercise authority over them.
     
  8. Alex

    Alex New

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    thx Michael.
     
  9. Alex

    Alex New

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    I generally agree, but one thing I took away from this interview was how deep (and maybe meaningful in another way) these societal needs are. our need for community... for elders... even for ritual.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2016
  10. Alex

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    agree. people practice all sorts of behavior and are subjected to the collective scorn/praise of public opinion. I kinda like that. it's culture making.
     
  11. "And then what I always come back to is something that I learned from Huston, which is that if you look at most dangerous ideologies of the 20th Century, they would be Mao’s Communism, they would be Hitler’s Nazism, they would be Stalin’s Communism where all three of those ideologies are secularist ideologies. So the problem isn’t religion, per se, it’s fanatical ideology, that’s the problem."
     
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  12. Ben Heaton

    Ben Heaton Member

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    I liked the quote from the podcast that religion is like a cow- it kicks, but it does give milk. It is easy to see that Aldous Huxley’s Perennial Philosophy is embedded in the great religions of the world, and in their scriptures. (I guess that’s what makes it “perennial”.) For many people, the exoteric can be a gateway to the esoteric. Yes, religion does kick sometimes. But the world outside of religion also kicks frequently. People who haven’t had good experiences in religion are not going to see any value in it, and that’s fine. People can of course do very well without it. But religion really does give milk to many, many people, in ways that do not make the news, but can be seen on the local level.
     
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  13. Alex

    Alex New

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    no doubt.

    it's like we need some kinda meta-religion to keep the religions in line.
    [​IMG]
    “Oh, the jobs people work at! Out west near Hawtch-Hawtch there's a Hawtch-Hawtcher bee watcher, his job is to watch. Is to keep both his eyes on the lazy town bee, a bee that is watched will work harder you see. So he watched and he watched, but in spite of his watch that bee didn't work any harder not mawtch. So then somebody said "Our old bee-watching man just isn't bee watching as hard as he can, he ought to be watched by another Hawtch-Hawtcher! The thing that we need is a bee-watcher-watcher!". Well, the bee-watcher-watcher watched the bee-watcher. He didn't watch well so another Hawtch-Hawtcher had to come in as a watch-watcher-watcher! And now all the Hawtchers who live in Hawtch-Hawtch are watching on watch watcher watchering watch, watch watching the watcher who's watching that bee. You're not a Hawtch-Watcher you're lucky you see!”

    Dr. Seuss, Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?
     
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  14. Mediochre

    Mediochre Member

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    I try to use the perciecved operational definiton from the interview rather than a dictionary one because it's very common for the definitions to be different. example, modern feminism

    Yeah it's really easy to be "courageous" when you believe you have the backing of an all powerful being. That's like calling someone who taunts caged tigers because they know there's bars between them "courageous." It's not courage, it's just pathetic.

    Which rolls back into my statement about their obsession with safety. An obsession that must necessarily be based on the idea that those things objectively matter even though death automatically disproves any notion of that. The more hilarious argument I usually hear after this one is some variation of "well what about the afterlife? They don't want to get tortured there for being bad!"

    If someone's going to torture you for not doing what they told you to do that's not someone worth respecting let alone worshipping. that's someone worth annihilating. If someone's actually following along because they're afraid of that then they're demonstrating their inner weakness. You shouldn't even need to logically or empircally disprove the existence or non existence of such entities/rules. If someone has any sliver of dignity or self-respect they will reject it on principle alone.

    If reality itself is built in such a way that the laws of physics constrain you arbitrarily and torture you for not being obedient, i.e this reality, they're not laws worth respecting either. They're just a prison, and the first obligation of a prisoner is to escape.
     
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  15. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    Not all religious people are "good" because they're religious. Many are religious because they're good: and would be good even if they weren't religious. For them, the fear that religion can instill isn't the determining factor for their goodness. Those for whom fear is the dominant factor often aren't good: include the fanatics who do bad things imagining they have the backing of the big man in the sky. I'm not talking about the "courage" that such a belief brings: I'm talking about, for example, the way that people could shelter Jews when Nazi Germany was in power, or generally, can take a principled stand when all around look on with disapprobrium: which is the essence of the behaviour of Jesus as exemplified in the Gospels -- whether or not one accepts the latter as literally true.

    I must say, I dislike intensely the kind of behaviour that manifests itself in cynicism and contempt for others who think in a different, less (you've used the word yourself) narcissistic way. There's the old story of Moses (http://www.seekeraftertruth.com/musa-the-shepherd/), who one day came across a shepherd who was praising God in simple terms, telling Him how he'd like to comb His hair, mend His sandals, and so on. Moses roundly berated the shepherd, saying his prayers would be useless, making him feel greatly chastised and ashamed.

    However, later, God berated Moses, saying that He (God) had no need of prayer or intellectual understanding, what mattered was the heart and intention of the shepherd, which was pure and good.

    Are you regarding religionists rather like Moses, before he had his chat with God, regarded the shepherd? Do you think you can see into the hearts of others? That you can know for sure their motivation, and that it is always fear of punishment or hope for reward? For some it might well be, but for others, who act from the goodness of their hearts, it is a small manifestation of the God within.
     
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  16. Mediochre

    Mediochre Member

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    One of the things that was the most interesting about this interview was the missing Nova program. I don't doubt that the government would want to strip that sort of knowledge from the public and demonize it. Unlike guns which are a material object, you can't just take away a skill like magic and still be left with a fully functioning slave. I would expect it to recieve the same suppression martial arts did in China and much of the rest of the world. Because the concept of self-defense is at least as dangerous as the skill of self-defense, as Josef Stalin once noted:

    "Ideas are more powerful than guns. We would not let our enemies have guns, why should we let them have ideas."

    Given my own experience developing magic and the surprising and rapid succes I had when I first started taking it seriously in 2009 (before losing it all) I could not imagine other people not figuring it out as well. Especially if those people dedicated millions of dollars and tens of thousands of man hours over a period of time longer than I've even been alive to figuring it out. No weapons potential? Don't make me laugh. I can't think of anything with more weapons potential.

    I've wondered for a long time now that perhaps the Romans really did encounter people that could fly and shapeshift back when they reported it. Then they looked at Druids and Co and went "well, that's a threat to the empire" and proceeded to do the only thing that can be done to not allow the virus of individuality to spread.

    1: Kill anyone with any knowledge of the art, burn all the books, destroy all records of its existence. Resetting any development made in the skill back to zero.
    2: Make the pracice of magic illegal to catch any stragglers.
    3: Demonise magic via religion to make people not even want to try practicing it in the first place making it a moral issue to catch those that would otherwise attempt to practice behind closed doors.
    4: Rinse and repeat

    Back when I was still a moron who believed in religion I always wondered why magic was so hated. Once being told that God fears magic which makes no sense if God was truly all powerful. But makes perfect sense if God is just a metaphorical stand in for The State who's only purpose throughout all of history regardless of form has been to create a tiny elite ruling class controlling a vast, physically enslaved underclass by means of controlling all access to resources and knowledge. Magic can solve the resource problem, which would then solve the knowlege problem, which would then overthrow the ruling class by making them irrelevant. Not something any self respecting megalomaniac would want.

    I have nothing to base this on but it is something I've always wondered about.
     
  17. Mediochre

    Mediochre Member

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    Generally I don't care what a person does unless it is directly or indirectly affecting me. I prefer to remain as non interventionist as possible because attempting to control others is a waste of my time. Because of that the only religisists I've ever really had to deal with are those who want to control others. I don't have much sympathy for the rest however, as the only excuse the majority of them are usually willing to give is "well we're not all like that." Well, if you're going to make the choice to wear the label of a group then you are responsible for everything done in the name of that label, good and bad. If you are not gong to take action to preserve and promote the goodness of the label by purging those who misuse it with some form official excommunicatory process that strips that person of any association with that label then it means you are compliant with their actions and their actions do represent the label. Thus even the best christian or muslim or etc are no better than the rape jihadis or abortion clinic bombers if all they do is go "well we're not all like that."

    Are there some groups within those religions that attempt to do that? Yes, and I'll respect them on that basis. But there still lies the fundamental problem of group identity. An oxymoron, a group is made of individuals and thus groups have no identity of their own. Thus feeling an emotional need to define oneself as part of a group is also an oxymoron, you can only define yourself as yourself. By your own intents, actions and choices. No one else can take credit or blame for those no matter how much someone may want them to.

    By this logic, many people are religious because they are bad and would be bad even if they weren't religious a well. If both those things are true, then what's the point of religion? What does it bring to the table that enhances the process? All I see is a group identity waiting to be the scapegoat of someone's dick moves or stealing indirect credit for legitimately good things done by some other random person in the group.
     
    Last edited: Dec 9, 2016
  18. Ben Heaton

    Ben Heaton Member

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    Using that logic, it is wrong for a person to choose to associate with any group, but EVERY group is going to have human imperfections. The average member of most groups does not have the power by themselves to create significant change in the entire group, or to purge from the group those whom they disagree with. Sometimes working in the trenches on a local level can create a greater good. For example, if all the open-minded people disassociated themselves from a group that is repressive to LGBT, then who will be the ally of the LBGT children who grow up in that society? Who will patiently work for change from within to change hearts and minds? I think that it is more important to focus on what we ourselves are doing for good, rather than judging the intentions of others.
     
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  19. Michael Larkin

    Michael Larkin Member

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    You're mistaking me for someone who thinks religion is good. I'm merely saying that many people who are good happen to be religious, and so I think you're wrong to globally denigrate them. I mean, some might say that you're a headbanger who's either convinced himself he's the new Alistair Crowley, or is pulling all our legs, so what would he know about anything? Not me, you understand...
     
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  20. Mediochre

    Mediochre Member

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    It would be more accurate to say that they should be loyal to themselves first and others second.

    Firstly, if the group is already so rampant with bad apples that individual action is effectively meaningless in reversing the tide then why is any "good" person a part of it in the first place? Look at Black Lives Matter as one example. It's nothing but a violent, black supremacist cult by it's members own actions and no one in the group seems to dissagree with those sorts of actions. Which is why "good" people who care about such things don't even get into it in the first place. Now there's a second thing called "hoteps" or something which is basically just guys saying "hey, you're doing all this to yourself. Stop doing this to yourself and it all goes away." Which is actually the truth.

    Second, yeah, that's why they stand up for themselves first. Purging from a group and all that implies that the group itself matters, which it doesn't.The group was just an oganizational tool to gather together like minded people. However the reputation of the group personally affects all who choose to hold its label. The first step is doing exactly what you said:

    For the most part that's all that should be required. But if bad applesd appear you stamp them out. If you don't they will spread. If the group ever gets to the point where it no longer represents what you want to accomplish and fixing it would require far too much time and resources that could've been dedicated to what you actually wanted to do then it's time to leave and start anew.

    That's their problem and they are the ones who ultimately have to solve it. No one is obligated to care. If there are no allies for them, too bad. They'll just have to deal with it just like everyone else who came before them.
     

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