One of the great questions of philosophy is, can a miracle truly occur? For some, it depends on how the term is defined. If a miracle is merely an unlikely occurrence, then the answer is easy. Yes. We all witness rare occurrences from time to time. From a sports team coming from far behind to win a championship no one thought them capable of, to accidents where someone narrowly escapes death. We often call these “miracles”, when perhaps they are more closely identified with chance occurrences with low probability.
More often we associate a true miracle when the laws of nature are broken. For instance, Jesus turning water into wine, walking on water, curing the sick, and his own resurrection from the dead. The Buddha was said to have the power of teleportation, the ability to duplicate himself, and manipulate the elements. The Prophet Muhammad was purported to manifest water, heal the sick and also had power over the elements. Today we also hear of modern day miracles which defy nature, such as shrines where people go to be healed or people claiming to see visions of God, saints or other types of entities.
So the question remains, do miracles really exist or are they just human projections on certain events? While we do have many reports of miracles, there are no proofs of miracles occurring to date. I think that’s a powerful statement in itself. There is no proof that has ever been recorded of a real, bonafide miracle.
Many theologians and theist philosophers, including Immanuel Kant, thought miracles didn’t matter. In fact, Kant though that miracles were actually a distraction from having faith. For Kant, miracles were the exception to the rule so it was better to not count on them in your life. Looking to the message of one’s faith was preferable to signs and wonders.
Philosophers such as J. L. Mackie and Michael Martin argue that interference with the natural order from God would prove that God wasn’t perfect. Why would God need to create miracles in the world if everything is going according to plan? Why would God play favorite and help some people and not others? Why would God let some people starve to death or be horribly injured, but save others from that fate through a miracle? Martin also suggests that somethings that appear as miracles to us, may not be God but anomalies that occur in nature that we simply cannot explain yet.
I buy this. I think when we witness synchronicity, this has something to do with consciousness and quantum entanglement. It’s part of the natural order. I do not think a miracle has occurred. In fact, when I think of how magic, astrology and tarot work, I don’t think any of that is miraculous, but more of just how the world operates. I think our individual consciousness is connected to our higher-self or a higher state of consciousness, which may be thought of as our spirit. It’s the entity which keeps sending our soul on mission in the material world. Beyond that, I believe there is a collective consciousness that is societal which we all tap into on a planetary level, and a Source Consciousness which is singular, which all things in the universe share in as well. We share an archetypal bond and this is how things like astrology and tarot work and evolve over time. When we align with our higher-self and Universal Consciousness, we begin to notice synchronicities occurring in our lives. These may appear miraculous, but it’s merely part of the natural order unfolding.
Do miracles occur where the laws of nature are broken? I don’t think so, no. I think when they occur in sacred texts they are meant as metaphors to explain deeper truths. Does the death and resurrection of Jesus mean more if Christ was killed on our behalf as a sacrifice? Or does it mean more that Jesus was the perfect example to show us how to transform ourselves? The Christ story is the path we take to die to our old selves and be reborn as Divine spirits. It’s not about a physical miracle, but rather our spiritual reality if we choose that path.
Where does consciousness come from? Why do we think the things we think? Why am I blogging and bothering with any of this stuff? Most of us would like to think we do the things we do because we will ourselves to do them. I want to blog because writing helps me to organize my thoughts. There! That’s why I do it! But why do I like to organize my thoughts? Well, it helps me to think more clearly and understand why I think what I think. But why do I want to do that? I can write a litany of reasons why I blog that will eventually take me back to some time long before I even knew that the internet and pens existed. I will never get to the first cause of why I do it. At some point the reality is that the necessary conditions arose for me to write this blog and post it on this WordPress website.
I came across an article today in The Conversation by David A. Oakley and Peter Halligan that examines the question, “What If Consciousness Is Not What Drives the Human Mind?” Fair question. No one knows were consciousness arises from, it just does. The thing that likes to take credit for everything I do in life is just ego. That’s the thing I, and most people who talk to me, call Stephanie. She likes to think she wills stuff to occur. She doesn’t, she just thinks this. I promise this the extent of me talking of myself in third person.
Consciousness studies had advanced so little in the past century that in 2012, famed philosopher of mind, Thomas Nagel, called for a new paradigm in the scientific study in his book Mind and Cosmos. He found that reductive materialism was failing to come up with anything that could explain how consciousness emerged, so something new should take its place. This was not well met by the scientific community back then. And to be fair, this would open up the scientific pursuit of understanding mind and consciousness to all sorts of nonsense. But that didn’t mean that Nagel wasn’t correct about materialism being hopelessly stuck. While I wouldn’t say the mainstream scientific community has come around now, there are more and more scientists taking this call seriously.
Oakley and Halligan haven’t quite thrown their hats in the ring, but they are questioning previous assumptions about consciousness, even if seemingly still in the materialist complex. They are asking us to consider that consciousness springs up from non-conscious things. Our environment, experiences, our body chemistry, genetics, produce certain reactions in the non-conscious part of our brain which are then relayed to the conscious part of the brain through our personal narratives (ego). The thoughts arise in us and we act on them or don’t based on our wiring. So long, free will!
I gave up on free will about 15 years ago. This was difficult, I am a hardcore existentialist. Radical freedom was my thing in my early college years. I was rabid for Sartre, Camus, Nietzsche! I’m happy to say I still am. I don’t think one needs to give up their contradictions, so long as they can resolve the paradox at the end of the day. But free will seems a fool’s quest to me now. I’ve bought into a soft determinism. There are so many variables that make each person who they are, that there remains the illusion of free will. Have you ever noticed how many things in our world turn out to be illusions?
As I was reading this study, I realized that what Oakley and Halligan were describing wasn’t new at all. It was actually proposed about two-thousand years ago by the Gnostics. Carl Jung saw the Gnostics as proto-psychologists. They certainly understood the power of symbols and metaphor! But Gnostics such as Plotinus and Monoimos clearly state that our thoughts and ideas do not come from ourselves, we don’t will them into existence. Monoimos gives direct credit to the Divine found within each of us. Plotinus argues that we are merely passive observers in this life. Our actual thoughts arise from outside of us. We’re basically just along for the ride – the very conclusion of Oakley and Halligan.
In the book Jesus and the Lost Goddess, Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy note in Ptolemy’s Gnostic tale of the Demiurge, that neither the Demiurge nor his mother Achamoth (Sophia) are responsible for their actions, both good and evil, in the end. Both are set on a path by the Creator and only think they are their own agents. Their thoughts and subsequent actions arise from a greater consciousness, that of the Creator. Freke and Gandy argue that like Achamoth and the Demiurge, our egos carry the belief that we create our own reality and drive our own destiny, but what we put in motion to design our world are actually the universal archetypes that are already in existence (the Gnostics would call them the Aeons) in Universal Consciousness (pp. 167, 285).
When we realize that we’re just along for the ride, suddenly we have found radical freedom to just fall into who and what we are without the constraints of cultural conditioning. We can allow ourselves to be the sensory units of the Universe, here to experience the wonders of life in all of its forms without fear. It’s all going to be okay, the Universe has our backs! This doesn’t mean we are free of pain and sorry and life will only be sunshine and roses. Pain and sorrow are a part of life, but how we perceive it matters in how we move through the experience.
If we can learn to observe our thoughts and actions, we can have better experiences through our perception.
While I do not believe we have free will in this life, I do believe that we choose our lives in each incarnation to either learn lessons or to have a particular experience. Our freedom exists in where we choose to reside in a particular lifetime in the material realm. But once we get here? We watch. We learn. We come to certain realizations as we encounter different experiences. That’s the point of being here. To be truly free in this life, we must accept and submit to it whatever it is until we leave the material world again.
I found this article today in Scientific American, “What if We Could Live for a Million Years?” by Avi Loeb. As you might expect it examines the idea of what life would be like for human if we could live for a million years. In such a span of time, some of the thoughts here are silly and intended to be so. We’re going to have to cap tenure, it states. Yeah, we’ll have to cap a few things, I’m thinking. And because we’re human we’d have to have stupid debates like what sort of health insurance would cover it and whether or not some people could save enough money to live a million years. I’m sure in the end we’ll iron out all the kinks and everyone will live happily ever after until our Sun goes critical or the entire universe collapses or some such.
It’s fun to think of these scenarios and I do wonder what it would be like if we humans managed to extend our life spans a significant amount. Perhaps with consciousness studies we could even learn how to cheat death and store our consciousness digitally. There are many fascinating philosophical questions we can ask. My question is, should it be something we even want?
It seems to me that our egos try awfully hard to draw out their lives, even way beyond their usefulness. The quest to live forever? That’s ego driven. There is so much more to me than my ego, and there’s so much more to everyone else. We are spiritual beings having a human experience. We learn through each incarnation. We take those lessons and we move on to something else. I would not want to be stuck in ego existence for centuries, let alone for millennial or eons! This is spiritual stagnation.
In Buddhism one’s essence is in a constant state of change and flux, so there is no-permanent self (anatta). Buddhism teaches to not get attached to ego, as who we are always changes whether we want this or not. We grow old, we get ill, we lose a limb, we change our views, people come into and out of our lives. Suffering occurs when there is an inability to let our own idea of self/ego go because it creates rigidity. Rather than bend as the winds of change come, we crack when we tightly hold to what once was.
A good friend of mine said a while back, “To believe in a permanent self…is to deny the possibility of spiritual self-change.” If there is a permanet, sustained self, is there any real possibility of change or growth?
Perhaps if someone is a reductive materialist, eternal life in the body or some other material form sounds appealing. To me it sounds like a prison sentence.
I was considering today what the world would be like if the literalist Christians, who so missed the message of personal transformation and awakened consciousness, hadn’t become the the dominant religion in our world today. Would we still be a pagan society? Would an eclectic spiritual practice be the norm? Would some other type of monotheistic religion have risen up to fill the void? How would that have shaped our political, social and technological landscape?
In his book, Caeser’s Messiah, Joseph Atwill makes the argument that Christianity in it’s literal interpretation, was invented by the Romans with the help of the Jewish scholar turned Roman citizen, Josephus. In Atwill’s argument, the Romans, under the auspices of the Flavian emperors, Vespasian, Titus and Domitian, did this as a means to control the Jewish population so that they would be more easily ruled. Jewish zealots were a major pain in the ass to the Roman Empire, so a religion that tells them to love each other, turn the other cheek, there is a better life waiting for them after they die, and so on, makes some amount of sense. Josephus, according to the theory, is there to make sure that they can encode the beliefs and morals of the new religion with Jewish culture and tradition. Atwill makes an interesting case and I do think that his theory is worth thinking about, even if I question some of his scholarship and conclusions.
For instance, early Christian-Jews did a really shitty job of converting Jews over to it. The main Jewish community wanted little to do with them. I imagine they were pretty over messiahs by then. They were super successful at converting the very people they really didn’t want to convert; gentiles. They were so successful at converting gentiles, that pretty soon there were more gentile Christians than Christian-Jews and eventually the Christian-Jews were kicked out of Christianity.
If this was a Roman plot, it had a lot of problems. Though that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. All sorts of bad ideas backfire in spectacular ways.
It’s been a few years since I read the book, but I’ve been reading more on the Gnostics and it occurred to me while doing my research that Atwill may still be on to something. It’s long been held that the Gnostic Christians were a branch of Christianity that came after the emergence of Christianity. While Gnosticism as a Pagan branch existed before either of them, the Christian version arose in response and criticism of mainstream Christianity. But I’m starting to think, based on more research, that isn’t true. It doesn’t even make sense to me. I think it’s quite possible that Christian Gnosticism came before Christian literalism as perhaps just a local Jewish version of Gnosticism (Timothy Freke and John Lamb Lush make this point in their books). The Romans may have then used some of the Gnostic stories to create the life and death of Jesus Christ into a single coherent narrative. In doing so, they systematically cut out a lot of the bits that empowered people like women, the poor and slaves. They wove a theology that treated the story as a literal truth rather than a more powerful symbolic truth that taught people how to tap into their own consciousness and divine power.
Why would the Romans do that? The same reason public education is pretty shitty today. They want drones to build empires, they don’t want free-thinkers. A few here and there is okay, they are needed to invent things and move technology forward. But masses of them? No way! There’s a reason psychedelic drugs are outlawed today and it’s not to protect us. The Romans were trying to control a vast empire and Gnosticism in it’s various forms was all over Alexandria and spreading out.
Late antiquity scholar, Candida Moss, did a good job in her book, The Myth of Persecution: How Early Christians Invented a Story of Martyrdom, showing how systematic persecution of the early Christians just never happened. There are records of Roman procurators and centurions sending would-be martyrs home, confused by the offer they made to die for their god. Though I guess it was nice to know that should there be a war, some people were ready to just give up and die. By the time Flavius Valerius Constantinus came around, Christianity spread so far and wide that he had the one thing that would surely unite the Roman Empire for him – a single religion that didn’t rely on one’s ethnicity. Anyone could be a Christian regardless of where they were born. This was new in the world, and he used it to breath new live into the empire that had grown too big for it’s own good. He became Constantine, legalized the practice of Christianity in 313, and within the same century it became the state religion of Rome. By 325 the Council of Nicaea codified Christianity and soon any Christian branch outside of that pack is labelled heretical and systematically eradicated.
So, I have been wondering of late if Rome may have actually played a stronger hand than we’ve been aware of in the shape of the world today. It makes me think of the words of Phillip K. Dick, “THE EMPIRE NEVER ENDED.”