Fifty Questions part One

Fifty questions on my conversion story.

Someone named Jesse, who could be anyone from Jesse Jackson the Racial Shakedown Artist to Jesse the Yodeling Cowgirl from Toy Story, asked me a few questions about my conversion story. Rather than repeat the whole conversion story in this space, I here repeat only his questions, given the original conversion story as a quote in his question where relevant.

(You may wonder why I am calling Jesse a ‘he’ when he might be a she. For those of you who studied English rather than Newspeak, let me remind you that the proper pronoun to use for a person who sex is unknown to you is ‘he.’ For those of you—and it is all of you—who were not taught this rule in grammar school, I am required to offer the explanation. I didn’t make the rules, I only respect them.)

Letter of 08 Sept

Q: (quote) “over a period of two years my hatred toward Christianity eroded due to my philosophical inquiries.”

Hatred strikes me as a strong word. Were you exaggerating, or is that how you really felt? How did you come to feel that way?

A: I was not exaggerating. What atheists feel toward Christian is a loathsome, crawling sensation of mingled contempt and fear and hate and bitter amusement. I came to feel that way out of frustration. I thought the matter was perfectlyplain: an omnipotent and omniscient God could not act, since to act presupposes an inability to get or to foresee one’s desires. A benevolent God could not allow for the Fall of Man. A just God could not punish the remote descendants of Adam for Adam’s crime. And so on and on. But arguing with Christians was like arguing with someone who believed in Santa Claus: no matter what you said, the belief persisted. And it was not just Christians: belief in some sort of god or gods reaches back to prehistory. It was absurd and irrational and nothing could seem to dent it. It was an obvious con game, a trick played by priests so that they would not have to do honest work for a living—telling old ladies lies about a mythic fairyland beyond the grave or over the rainbow. It made no sense and it would not go away, and even reasonable people seemed to buy into it.

The atheists who say they do not hate religion are lying.

People who do not hate religion call themselves agnostics, and they don’t think about it. People who think about it end up loving it or hating it: there is no third option. Human beings are not psychologically capable of maintaining a neutral position on this issue: why this one issue is unforgivingly binary, whereas other issues are not, I leave as an exercise to the reader to discover.

Q: (quote) “To my surprise and alarm, I found that, step by step, logic drove me to conclusions no modern philosophy shared, but only this ancient and (as I saw it then) corrupt and superstitious foolery called the Church.”

Were you alarmed because of the concept of hell?

A: No. That was not one of the topics to which this passage refers.

Here I was talking about temperance, moderation, fortitude and justice, and the remorseless logic that drove me away from the easygoing sexual libertarianism I had been raised with, step by step into concluding that marriage was not a contract, should be lifelong, monogamous, and exclusive, and that society, honor, biology, and human nature required abstinence before marriage and faithfulness within marriage, which in turn necessitated the habituation of the sexual appetites to abide by rational norms, related to the marital union and to procreation, and to that end contraception was a grave moral evil. Step by step, for utterly secular reasons, and out of a concern for virtue and the duties surrounding it, I came not just to agree with the Christian position, but with the Catholic position. That shocked me to my core.

There are denominations that do not believe in hell. I believe in it only because it seems logical, given the magnitude of the issues involved, that deprivation from the beatific vision would necessitate eternal pain.

Letter of 09 Sept

Q: (quote) “Second, I began to notice how shallow, either simply optimistic or simply pessimistic, other philosophies and views of life were.”

Did you mean Anne Frank optimistic ("In spite of all that has happened, I still believe that people are basically good at heart.") or Roberto Rossellini optimistic ("I am not a pessimist. To perceive evil where it exists is, in my opinion, a form of optimism.")? or something completely different?

A: I mean "simply optimistic" in the sense that that progressives think progress is inevitable, and that good must triumph over evil in this world and that change and evolution have no price, no downside, and involve no real loss —call this the Star Trek view of life. This view of life is also reflected in the formulations of various reformers who think one change or a few will catapult mankind into Eden. There is a group called "transhumanists", for example, whose daydreams of the near future include such marvels as personal immortality, and godlike supercomputers, but who seem to overlook (many of them) the more likely possibility, if history is any predictor, of eternal slavery beneath an iron scepter of Colossus, Skynet, or the Matrix.

I contrast this with the sentiment expressed by JRR Tolkien: “I am a Christian, and indeed a Roman Catholic, so that I do not expect ‘history’ to be anything but a long defeat though it contains (and in a legend may contain more clearly and movingly) some samples or glimpses of final victory.”

Q: (quote) " I would listen to my fellow atheists, and they would sound as innocent of any notion of what real human life was like as the Man from Mars who has never met human beings or even heard clear rumors of them. Then I would read something written by Christian men of letters, Tolkien, Lewis, or G.K. Chesterton, and see a solid understanding of the joys and woes of human life. They were mature men. I would look at the rigorous logic of St. Thomas Aquinas, the complexity and thoroughness of his reasoning, and compare that to the scattered and mentally incoherent sentimentality of some poseur like Nietzsche or Sartre. I can tell the difference between a rigorous argument and shrill psychological flatulence. I can see the difference between a dwarf and a giant. “

You contrasted your fellow atheists with prominent Christian authors. Were there prominent atheistic authors (besides Nietzsche and Sartre, if that is what they were) in your library as well? Lovecraft? Asimov? Clarke? Sagan?

A: The prominent atheist authors in my library included Tom Paine (a Deist, but close enough) James Ingersoll, and Ayn Rand. Lovecraft, Asimov, Clarke and Sagan were in my library (or, in the case of Sagan, on the PBS’s show ‘Cosmos’) but the topic of atheism was not addressed, at least, not by anything I had read.

Q: (quote) “My wife is a Christian and is extraordinary patient, logical, and philosophical. For years I would challenge and condemn her beliefs, battering the structure of her conclusions with every argument, analogy, and evidence I could bring to bear. I am a very argumentative man, and I am as fell and subtle as a serpent in debate. All my arts failed against her. At last I was forced to conclude that, like non-Euclidian geometry, her world-view logically followed from its axioms (although the axioms were radically mystical, and I rejected them with contempt). Her persistence compared favorably to the behavior of my fellow atheists, most of whom cannot utter any argument more mentally alert than a silly ad Hominem attack. Once again, I saw that I was confronting a mature and serious world-view, not merely a tissue of fables and superstitions.”

I completely understand if you think this line of discussion is inappropriate, but…I thought interfaith marriages happened between people who weren’t bothered by differences of religious belief. Was this constant quarreling, or just the occasional dispute?

A: These were philosophical debates, not quarrels, conducted on rational lines. The type of dispassionate, unemotional intellection which is my second nature seems oddly to be rare these days: we live in a time of barbarism and sentimentality.

Letter of 11 Sept

A (referring to the hatred of Christianity question, above): Perhaps you can find an atheist somewhere who does not hate Christianity, but I would have to see such a chimera before I would believe it. I am strongly inclined to think that human psychology itself does not allow for the possibility that one can honestly think the people around oneself are all superstitious and intellectually hypocritical ignoramuses devoted to believing in an invisible, giant and sadistic version of Santa Clause, ready at any moment to launch another Spanish Inquisition, and not feel dismissive contempt, which is a type of hatred.

And I claim that an atheist who has not concluded that most of humanity offends sweet reason by believing such absurdities and enormities has not thought threw the ramifications of his position. An atheist who believes there is no God believes that his fellow men believe something for which there is no rational account.

The atheist who admits without mental reservation or purpose of evasion that a Christian, any Christian, is his mental or moral superior, better educated or more thoughtful is a rare bird indeed. Perhaps you have seen such a being. I have not. From time to time, one can find an atheist who grudgingly admits that some good springs from the Christian religion, or that it serves some purpose, or that men of great intellectual and moral accomplishment have devoted their lives to it: but usually this is a preliminary to a scoffing denunciation, where the atheist wonders what Thomas Aquinas might have done if only he had studied science rather than theology, or he wonders why someone as smart as Isaac Newton studied biblical prophecy.

Q: Had you studied the Bible (or any other religious text, for that matter) at all when you were an atheist?

A: Yes. I studied the Bible like an enemy looking over captured battleplans, attempting to find contradictions, absurdities, and enormities I could use to confound the faithful. I had read the Bible in school, of course, since it is one of the foundational documents of Western literature and thought. I have an interest in other religions, and have read some of their literature, sacred and profane.

Q: One question that tends to get interesting answers in God debates is, "What would really convince you that God exists?" Had you really never heard a question like this before you were 42, or just never directly?

A: I had heard the question many times. It was not until I was 42 that I was mature enough and intellectually honest enough to stare the real answer in the face. Usually I answered the question merely by asking my interlocutor what would make him believe in Buddha or Zeus.

To me it was a non-issue: asking me what would convince me to believe in the existence of an incomprehensible being of whom much nonsense and paradox were spoken — well, what would convince you that a four-sided triangle existed? By definition there can be no such thing. What about a being who is an omnipotent actor? By definition, omnipotence can satisfy all desires immediately, or before they arise, and with no desire, the being cannot act.

To believe in something, one must comprehend it: but God is said to be incomprehensible, therefore I am being asked under what conditions I could bring myself to comprehend what none can comprehend: to the atheist, a conversation with a theist is like a conversation through Alice’s Looking-Glass.

Q: Has your view of omnipotence and action changed since then?

A: My concept of omnipotence and action has not changed, I merely doubt if these concepts in the way humans understand them apply to the Godhead. I found in Boethius CONSOLATIONS OF PHILOSOPHY for an argument to reconcile the apparent paradox.

Q: (quote) “So I prayed. "Dear God, I know (because I can prove it with the certainty that a geometer can prove opposite angles are equal) that you do not exist. Nonetheless, as a scholar, I am forced to entertain the hypothetical possibility that I am mistaken. So just in case I am mistaken, please reveal yourself to me in some fashion that will prove your case. If you do not answer, I can safely assume that either you do not care whether I believe in you, or that you have no power to produce evidence to persuade me. The former argues you not beneficent, the latter not omnipotent: in either case unworthy of worship. If you do not exist, this prayer is merely words in the air, and I loose nothing but a bit of my dignity.Thanking you in advance for your kind cooperation in this matter, John Wright." “

Is that what you actually said, or just an approximation of it?

A: I am relying on my memory, naturally. I am not sure I understand the question.

Letter of 17 September

Q: I have trouble imagining a sincere prayer that begins, "Dear God, I know (because I can prove it) that you do not exist." Did you really say that, or just "Dear God, if you’re listening, please reveal yourself to me," while thinking in the back of your mind how silly it seemed?

A: I really said that. Sincere? Keep in mind that to me, it was as if I were writing a letter to Santa Claus, never expecting a fat jolly old elf to pop down the chimney and grant me a gift of great price. One does not address purely fictional beings with any expectation that anyone is listening.

Q: I found the post where your wife said that you said, "Either call an Ambulance or call a Practitioner." Were you, a nonbeliever at the time, not troubled by the thought of depending on medicinal prayer or Christian Science during a medical emergency?

A: I did not say it in my original description, but, at the time, I did not know for certain that it was a heart attack. I thought it might be an attack of angina or pleurisy.

I am also a practical man: if the Christian Science worked, then it worked, and there is no use arguing with primary facts on purely theoretical grounds. I did not think it would do any particular harm.

But I admit it was rather strange that I would ask my wife to pray for me, since (at the time) I did not believe in such things. It seems oddly out of character. My recollection as to my thought processes at that point is not perfectly clear: no one writes notes during emergencies.

Q: I also read the part about her friend wondering if her prayer had caused the heart attack. Were you aware of a problem with your heart before, or was this completely new to you?

A: I had been on medicine for high blood pressure for about two years before the heart attack, so, in hindsight, it should not have been completely new to me. But at the time it came as a surprise. I did not know I had five blocked arteries. The doctor thought that this was not caused by stress, nor bad diet, nor lack of exercise, but rather by certain genetic markers: oddly enough, no one else in my family has a history of heart trouble.

Letter of 17 September

Q: When she read to you from *Science and Health*, do you recall if you were actively listening and taking the words to heart (no pun intended) or merely passively listening (not paying attention)?

A: I don’t recall that I was paying any attention to the words. I do recall the phrase she read when the pain stopped: "become aware, if only for a moment, that life is neither in nor of matter, and you will suddenly find yourself whole, and the body shall utter no complaint." Or words to that effect (I am quoting from my memory.)

Q: (quote) “Those were the happiest days of my life. A sense of peace and confidence, a peace that passes all understanding, like a field of energy entered my body. I grew aware of a spiritual dimension of reality of which I had hitherto been unaware. It was like a man born blind suddenly receiving sight.”

Does that include visual agnosia, or am I taking the analogy too far?

A: Please stick to serious questions.

Q: What *are* the signs of a hallucination, exactly? I’ve tried to research this topic but haven’t found any good leads. What kind of disorder does your friend have?

A: Hallucinations can arise from causes like high fever or alcohol poisoning, alcohol withdrawal, dehydration, kidney failure, various toxic substances like khut leaves or mushrooms, or, for recurring hallucinations, symptoms include signs of mental disease, such as facial or eye motion oddities, or social abnormality. Hallucinations can affect any of the senses (visual, audible, and so on). Delusions are different from hallucinations: delusions are disorders of the thought process, whereas hallucinations are false sensory inputs. Certain types of hallucinations are accompanied by nausea, seizures, weakness spasms, spasms, depression, confusion, and so on. Some hallucinations can be caused by abalone poisoning.

I must pause to emphasize one poignant fact. Not one, not two, but several people have suggested with perfect certainty that my experience must have been an hallucination. But when I asked them about this hypothesis, I found that they could neither define the term, nor identify a single symptom. Not one. None, of course, had read or seen my medical records … OR ASKED TO.

For persons putting forward a possible theory intended to explain (or explain away) the facts, they were uniformly without curiosity as to the pattern of facts, the order of events, or even such basics as my age and background.

One waggish and windy "Bright", for example, seriously suggested that I became a Christian (he said I was a born-again fundamentalist) only because I had never thought about mortality before the heart attack. Obviously, he had never read anything I wrote (indeed, he boasted as much) but his lack of information did not slow his tongue. In reality, Stoicism is a rather morbid philosophy: our concern is always to have death before our eyes, to face it without terror or shame, and to live our lives in preparation for death. Read the Crito of Plato, or the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, for example.

I soon realized that my atheist friends were not capable of objective thought on this issue: they could only recite dogma, and facts matter nothing to them.

By their dogma, any religious experience is and must be an hallucination: end of story. There they put up a roadblock beyond which thought and curiosity do not reach —at least, such thought and curiosity as their atheist dogma permits.

Maybe you know a better quality of atheist than I do, more objective and less emotional thinkers: I am only reporting results from experience.

[…] My friend is a manic-depressive bipolar schizophrenic, who is both suicidal and takes medication. I have heard his descriptions of his hallucinations, real hallucinations, at length, and on many occasions, and over a period of years. His hallucinations and delusions fall into repeating patterns, megalomania, paranoia, and so on.

I do not pretend I am a medical expert; I do not say I am even a well-informed amateur; but I know more about the causes and symptoms of hallucination than the dogmatic atheists it was my misfortune to engage in debate. I have seen and lived with a real case of recurring hallucination, and clearly they have not.

Q: (Referencing my comment that I was not in any pain during my hospital stay, or thereafter) Do you ever use painkillers anymore?

A: Not that I recall. I have been in pain since (sometimes severe pain) but even painkillers I am told are rather powerful do not have any affect.

Q: Were you anesthetized for the operation?

A: Please only ask me serious questions. It was open-heart surgery involving a quintuple bypass.

However, none the experiences I mention here happened during the operation nor immediately after. In any case, anesthetics are not normally a cause of hallucination or delusion, even though some (like laughing gas) can cause euphoria. The feelings of quiet ecstasy I describe above occurred the day before the surgery, when I should have been most anxious. They were hours or days apart from the visitations I mention later.

That is one reason why I am so skeptical of any theory of hallucination or delusion as a cause — the events were not conveniently grouped so that if, for example, an evil spy from a rival science fiction publishing company had put hallucinogenic mushrooms in the turkey I had for Thanksgiving, or if the pipes in my house had been leaking a hallucinogenic gas, it could have affected me then and days later when I was in a different location eating different food.

And, no, the evil spy from Bantam Books is not a real theory anyone has put forward, it is merely a more reasonable theory than the hokum my atheist friends were foolish enough to put forward as other possibilities.

One "bright" suggested a certain chain of causes; and when I told him he had the order of events backward, he told me that I had subconsciously re-edited and re-written my memories with my magic memory-eraser power. When I told him that my wife independently remembered the order of events as I did, however, he did not tell me I had use my magic power of super-persuasion to talk her into rewriting her memories also.

Letter of 21 Sept

Q: What did the experience teach you about the relationship between determinism and free will?

A: The relationship is relative and metaphorical.

Determinism is the theory that, since every effect is defined by a preceding mechanical cause, and since the content of thought and decision is a mental effect, ergo a description of mechanical causes should (in theory) completely define the content of thought and decision. Free will is the primary observation that a conscious man has about his own decision-making: he notices that he, and not his circumstances, define the content of his thought and decision. At first glance, this seems a paradox, for the determinist logic concludes that the will is not free, any more than the position of the gears in a clockwork at noontime is free: but primary observation, the given we must accept before any thought process (including thinking about free will) begins, is that the will is free.

In my vision, I saw the relation between the two was relative to one’s point of view. From the point of view of the actor, the will is and must be free, or otherwise he is not an actor but a patient. (Here I do not mean a stage actor or a hospital patient, I mean one who acts and that which suffers begin acted upon.) From the point of view of a mechanical description of the actor, the actor described by means of the metaphor as if he is the patient, he is a patient, merely one who passively suffers or observes the outcome of previous mechanical causes, including, oddly enough, the “causes” of that actor’s previous decisions.

By previous decisions here, I mean, for example, if I have previous decided to give into some vice or bad habit, then even within the metaphor of mechanical cause and effect, I am the passive sufferer of what, now, to me is something external to my will. On Monday and Tuesday, I give in to anger, so that by Wednesday, the habit of anger is lodged into my brain: from the point of view of Monday, anger is something within the power of my free will, but by Wednesday, the anger is a merely a fact external to my will, something I can make a decision about, but not itself a decision.

If all this is unclear, let me use an analogy. Suppose you are Shakespeare, and with pen in hand, you set down to write the play Hamlet. Hamlet’s actions are, from the point of view outside the play, entirely controlled by Shakespeare’s pen. Hamlet is a literal imagining: he cannot be said to have a free will in a literal sense. But, let us imagine things from Hamlet’s point of view — and if you cannot imagine things from Hamlet’s point of view, Shakespeare has failed as a playwright. From Hamlet’s point of view, from what we might call the point of view inside the play, Hamlet does and must have free will, because without Hamlet’s free will, his ability to decide and his hesitation to decide, then there is no drama and no play and no Hamlet. While theoretically a play like Oedipus Rex can take place inside a Determinist universe, a play like Hamlet cannot.

Here is the point: From Shakespeare’s point of view, from the point of view of the Creator with a pen in his hand, there is no paradox between determinism and free will nor can there be a paradox. There must be cause and effect inside the play, and things inside the play must be imagined (imagined by the playwright, players, and playgoers) to happen according to fixed and mechanical rules. If Hamlet picks up the skull of Yorick, the motion of the hand causes and determines the location of the skull as it is picked off the ground. If Ophelia falls into the water, and held buoyant by her dress for a time, the mechanical cause and effect dictates that once the fabric is sodden, the buoyancy escapes, and Ophelia drowns. At no point in time does anything happen, no can anything happen, inside the imaginary world of Hamlet where cause and effect does not operate, and the current situation of every particle of matter is determined are defined by the previous situation. If Ophelia falls in the river in Act IV, scene vii, then by the law of cause and effect, she was out of the river before that Act, and in the river after. But there also must be free will inside the play, because when Laertes rushes from the room after learning of Ophelia’s death, there is no drama if Shakespeare portrays Laertes merely as a machine reacting without free will. The anger of Laertes which drives him to plot murder against Hamlet in a later act is “caused” (in one sense of the word) by the death of Ophelia, but (in other sense of the word) it is “caused” by his own character, personality, will and decision.

In yet a third sense of the word, the decision of Laertes to murder Hamlet is “caused” by Shakespeare’s pen.

If the universe is like a stageplay, and the Creator has the pen of history in His hand, then there is no more paradox between cause and effect and free will inside our universe any more than there is inside Shakespeare’s play. If both cause and effect and free will are decided by the Creator, then they are two different names for the same thing seen from two different metaphors. It is both true, from the determinist metaphor, that the news of Ophelia’s death causes Laertes to murder Hamlet, like mainspring A moving cogwheel B to move lever C; and true also from the indeterminists metaphor that Laertes decided and determined to murder Hamlet of his own free will, neither being coerced nor while under the influence.

Q: What do you think of others’ religious experiences that have not been Christian in nature and have led them to other religions? Do you think they misunderstood their experiences, or do different religious experiences represent pieces of the truth?

A: Your question must be answered very carefully because you conflate several related things. First, what constitutes “another religion”? The area covered by things properly called religion, and yet beyond the influence of Christian thought and inspiration is smaller than it looks.

Second, we must ask what in their experiences led them to other religions? If they were seeking part of the same truth I seek, like a mystic, my answer will be different than if they were seeking something else, such as power over nature, like a wizard. Wizards and mystics both believe in spirits, but for opposite reasons.

First, what ground is covered by other religions?

Having not studied the religious experiences of others, my opinion must be very tentative. Insteadof telling you what I believe (for my mind on this issue is open, which is to say, blank and empty) I will tell you what I am a willing to believe, that is, the things I have no firm reason to disbelieve.

I am willing to believe that the religious experiences of the Jews can be harmonized with Christian religious experience.

Since Islam is a heresy, that is, a distortion or falsification of Christianity, I am willing to believe it must contain must truth in it, or else the lies in it have no persuasive power. That their prayers are answered, and by the same God as I pray to, when those prayers are asked inside His will, I cannot doubt.

The religious ecstasies of pagans or the meditations of Orientals achieving oneness beyond the self I am willing to believe to be the beginning ,and not the end, of a spiritual voyage: I admire anyone spiritually minded enough to set sail on the Ocean of Tranquility beyond the shores of mere self-awareness and mere selfishness, but I believe to become lost in that Ocean is not the goal. I know that Ocean leads not to the self annihilation of Nirvana, but to the Country of Joy, a Hither Shore from which we have been exiled, lays on the far side. I do see an underlying unity to all religions, but only because much that is called religion is not.

There are Eastern belief systems, doctrines and practices which in the West are categorized as religions, but which are more properly called Philosophies or bodies of ritual practice. The writings of Confucius and Lao Tzu are philosophical, not religious. There are pagan, neo-pagan, and New Age aggregations of tales and practices, metaphors and longings and traditions that are also called religions, albeit that word is misleading used in this context. A religion without a metaphysical or theological body of knowledge is merely a cult, a body of practices, not a sect, a body of doctrines. The disputes between Wiccans, for example, do not rise to the level of doctrinal disputes. The classical pagans are pre-Christian, and their mysteries and tales held foreshadowing and hints of Christianity. The modern neo-pagans and Theosophists and New-Agers are Post-Christian, persons who attempt to keep the Christian moral code without keeping the Christian sexual code, and who would like the color and high drama of ancient nature worship without the despair, the taboos, the strict honor codes, the patriot tribalism, and the self-sacrifice of the ancient nature worshipers.

So, then, outside Christian religious experience, we have Jewish, heretical, pre-Christian, post-Christian, nature worship and devil worship and nonreligious mystical practices. Most of these are called a religion out of courtesy, even though, on close look, they have nothing in common with real religion. I would be so bold as to say that the only real and independent religion outside Christianity is Hinduism. Buddhism is a heresy of Hinduism which gives it a universal and philosophical character that is quite profound, and Buddhism I take to be the highest and noblest pinnacle of religion a man without revelation from God can reach: a religion of philosophical quietism indistinguishable from utter despair that seeks self-annihilation as the only cure for pain. But the visions and transports of the Hindu and Buddhist cannot be dismissed as merely trivial: I am willing to believe they have penetrated the veil that hangs between the illusions of life and an underlying spiritual truth: I do not think what they have seen beyond that veil necessarily contradicts what I and others of my faith see.

Second, what do they seek? The cultic practices, witch-doctors, shamans, and so on of various native aboriginal peoples fall into two general categories: wonder tales with common sense morals to them, as something Aesop might say, and devil worship. I will not disgust you by describing the human sacrifices, torments, and cannibalism of the Aztecs, the Phoenicians, ancient Scandinavians or modern New Guineans, nor will I mention what goes on in an Abortion Clinic, but if these things are not devil worship, then they will do until the real thing comes along. I will mention only how the Aztec priests, with dung rubbed in their hair, bodies painted black and red, would beat little slavegirls to death, hoping that for every tear the dying child shed, gods would send rain. The child would be flayed, and her skin sewn into garments for the priests. The religious experience of devil worshipers I do not regard as being of the same order as either the ecstasies of Greek Mystery cults nor the transports of Hindu meditation.

Nonetheless, when pagans, neo-pagans, and New Agers suffer spirit quests, or when the Sybil at Delphi breathes in mephitic fumes and has visions, something happens for which we must give account.

As a modern man, I have been raised to dismiss all tales of people seeing ghosts or suffering premonitions of the future as mere blither and nonsense, the way we would dismiss stories about egg-laying mammals in the Antipodes, or sailor’s tales of giant squids. But as a Christian, I am obligated to believe that, as some philosophers maintain, the air is peopled with spirits, who by their superior intelligence foresee future events, and by virtue of their greater compassion seek to warn them, and so set in motion certain prodigies or signs, as when Savonarola predicted the invasion of Charles VIII, and the tumult of ghostly affrays were heard in the air at Arezzo before he came, and men at arms among the clouds seen clashing.

It is also possible that these airy spirits, when driven by malice, can deceive the credulous pagan mind, and prey upon their weaknesses. If any Aztec or Phoenician or Abortionist worshiper of Moloch, covered with the blood of children and the tears of women, has experienced some religious ecstasy or been carried in the spirit to see some spiritual truth, I have no doubt it was fallen spirits who were their escorts.

If a pagan is seeking righteousness and truth, seeking God, I have no doubt God will answer, and that the pagan will catch some glimpse of the truth. If a pagan wizard is seeking power over nature, I have no doubt the absence of God will answer, and draw the unwary wizard closer to the abyss.

The scorn for mankind one sees in the writings of, for example, Carlos Castaneda, shows the profound and even satanic contempt with which these wizards and Gnostic regards the common man, those same poor and worthless whores and publicans and fisher folk my Messiah regarded as infinitely previous, and died in shame by torture to save.

Q: How do the one and the many and mind and body relate to the God question in your view?

A: My answer here must be very abbreviated, so please assume I have qualifications and nuances in my mind which I do not here mention.

The mind-body problem I see as solved by the God question once we conclude that the omnipotent and benevolent power which created both minds and bodies both harmonized their workings and supersedes them both. The Hindu mystic is basically correct when he dismissed the body as an illusion, or a mental construct, on the grounds that if the Spirit of God is omnipotent, than the power of any bodily fact to resist divinity is impotent, not to mention unimportant. My conclusions parallel those of Bishop Berkeley’s immaterialism.

To refer to a metaphor used above, if Shakespeare creates Hamlet’s mind with all its melancholy and madness, Shakespeare also creates his body, dressed in black, and Shakespeare alone knows how much of Hamlet’s melancholy and madness is feigned, and how much is calculation. The discussion of what degree of Hamlet’s melancholy is created by a malfunction of Hamlet’s physical body, an unbalance of his humors, is an academic question with no right answer. Hamlet does not have a physical body from the point of view of hiscreator, Shakespeare.

The question of the One and Many is decided, once one believes in God, in favor of the One: the chaos and manifold of the universe is temporary, temporal, material, merely something in which sense impressions participate or partake. The particulars of particular temporal true facts (truths with a small t) are seen and can be known only because the idea or transcendental form of the Truth (capital T) is itself one and eternal, simple and spiritual.