A Dialogue Featuring
Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford
AKA Lon Milo Duquette
On the equinox, the Baron made his yearly pilgrimage into Dante’s Inferno. Past the gates and through Limbo lay his destination- the Citadel of Virtuous Pagans. Just as Dante recorded in his travels 700 years ago, therein were assembled the great thinkers of antiquity: Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Diogenes, Diatoma- the whole gang. In what appeared to be a newer addition to the imposing citadel was a more modern crowd: Jung, Sartre, Anais Nin, Simone de Beauvoir, Michel Foucault and even funny little Jacky Derrida. In a cozy chair in the corner sat the “Rabbi” Ben Lamed Clifford, looking thoughtful as he chomped on cigar and blew multi-colored smoke rings in the shape of Hebrew letters. The vaporous letters dispersed as soon as they hit the miniature helicopter blade of his propeller topped yarmulke. The Baron had come to bring the Rabbi his news about the world of the living this quarter, as well as the figures and statistics on his book sales. The Rabbi, although having had one posthumous volume published in his own name, The Chicken Qabalah of Rabbi Lamed Ben Clifford: The Dilletente’s Guide To What You Do and Do Not Need To Know To Become A Qabalist, has managed to keep up his output from the other side, using the pseudonym “Lon Milo Duquette” to ply his trade from beyond the grave. This so-called “Lon Milo Duquette” has recently released another slim tome, “Accidental Christ,” which everyone should purchase immediately. If you think health care is tough on the elderly, imagine Hell without insurance. Ouch.
Well, all the talking heads gathered round, and the Baron and the Rabbi passed the conch (and Bourbon) back forth for a little while and chatted a bit about what was going on up above.
Baron: Dearest Rabbi, there’s been quite a bit of talk recently about the “New Atheism,” spearheaded publicly by Richard Dawkins, among others. One of the many arguments being thrown around is that “religion”- which is often conflated with alll “spiritual” practice, by proxy, is an evolutionary dead-end, or, at best, a necessary tool for social cohesion.
This is an interesting viewpoint, as I do not view spiritual/ritual practice as being an evolutionary dead-end or a coping mechanism, but precisely the opposite: a lens to focus one’s perceptions fully on the structure and significance of natural phenomenon rather than to obscure them. That some one can look at the rituals practiced in our culture and see that they function to delude people rather than focus their attention speaks significant volumes about the status of religion and ritual in our culture.
I am reminded of one of Nietszche’s fundamental points- that religion and philosophy must serve life, and that once they cease to do so, they have lost their value- become mere husks of their intended function. He praised the pagans of antiquity for the utility of their faith. His critique of Christianity came back exactly to this point- that its rituals and structures walled one off from life rather skillfully guiding one deeper.
LMD: Excuse me. I got caught up finishing up this delightful pickled egg. Could you repeat the question?
Baron: The dead have no sense of time. As I was saying, there’s been quite a bit of talk……. (clipped for space)
LMD: The Dawkins book has been making the rounds down here. Epicurus spilled wine on it the other night and had to send it out to be dry-cleaned. Spinoza says I can read it after he does. But the fact I’ve not read the work won’t stop me from waxing philosophical on this subject.
Baron: Goddamn right.
LMD: You know … whenever a person who I don’t know well asks my religion, before I answer I pause for a moment and cast the scintillating ray of my discernment into that particular area of their brain that is (for many people) the zone they have set aside for the mental illness of religion. If I sense that that quadrant of gray matter has been disconnected from other areas of the brain, — areas labeled “Common Sense”, “Rational Thought”, “Natural Curiosity”, “Self-Examination”, “Independent Thought”– if I sense that their idea of “God” is no bigger, no funnier, no more wonderful, no more mysterious, nor more terrible, no more sexy, no more hopeful, no more ecstatic than what can be captured in words and held prisoner between the covers of a book – then I smile and say to them, “I’m an Atheist.” Nietzsche and I have a ball up here. Last week while I distracted God with the old, “Hey God! Your sandal is unstrapped!” Nietzsche stuck a sign on His back that said, “KICK ME. I’M DEAD!”
Baron: Nice. I used to do that with my grandfather, but he was actually dead at the time.
LMD: But I’m on the same page with Nietzsche on other things too, including his view that religion and philosophy must serve life, and that once they cease to do so, they have lost their value. I regret to say that the exoteric manifestations of the three ‘great’ religions of the west, Christianity, Islam, and even my sentimental favorite, Judaism, have, for all intents and purposes, ceased to serve life. In fact, I’m sad to say that I believe they have become the dangerous and deadly servants of political and economic entities that are currently threatening all life on planet. I’ve even written a little song about it. Want to hear it?
LMD: Okay! Hey Euterpe! Hand me that 1933 C.F. Martin D-18!
Baron: Christ preserve us.
“I do not care who you worship as God.
I do not care if you worship.
I don’t care who you pray to;
Or if you pray.
I do not care if you’re Moslem or Jew
Jain, Hindu, Christian or Buddhist.
Okay with me.
You might believe in a scripture divine.
You might believe in the Bible,
Or in words from the Koran,
L. Ron, or me.
But if your faith needs to conquer the world,
If your God craves more converts
That’s not religion it’s politics,
And you’ve been had!
You’ve let them make you a moron,
Bamboozled to worship a devil
Tricked into losing your soul
And if you’re told that there’ll never be peace,
As long as there are unbelievers,
That’s not religion
That’s a cult,
And you’ve been had….
You’ve let them make you a moron,
Bamboozled to worship a devil,
Tricked into losing your soul.
And if you’re told that you’ll never find peace
Until you’re dead, cold and buried
That’s not religion it’s suicide,
And you’ve been had….
You’ve let them make you a moron
Bamboozled to worship a devil
Tricked into losing your soul.”
Baron: Rabbi…you know that wasn’t very…metal…
LMD: Does this make me a “New Atheist”? Not in my mind. I’m a ceremonial magician. I do more ritual gymnastics than the pope (well…maybe not that much…but lots). I don’t do it to find God. I do it to find myself. Once I do that, then I’ll work on God. As the meditation master in DuQuette’s novel, ACCIDENTAL CHRIST, said, “How can you hope to touch the heart of God if your own heart remains undiscovered?
But how can I explain this to a person who thinks I am an inferior citizen of the universe, cursed in life and condemned to eternal torment after death if I don’t believe with all my heart that a first century man was raised from the dead and then flew into the sky to prove all other religions were wrong; or that I don’t believe that a sixth century man (who said all other religions were wrong) was the last person on earth who will ever receive a divine revelation; or that I don’t believe that any government on earth has a deed of land signed by the one and only God of the universe? To these people I proudly say, “I’m an atheist!’
Baron: Really? I usually just tell people that I worship the devil. In the rock and roll sense.
One is reminded of the frustration a person living in a world with 3 spatial dimensions might have in explaining his/her experience to someone living in a flat, 2 dimensional world. Although 2 dimensions is certainly more than the current “science vs. religion” debate has. It’s one dimensional. And its an argument between 2 human functions- belief and thought. Because it is a debate within people, its not one that can be won without the cost of a portion of our native potential.
This one dimensional debate forces belief and thought onto hostile terms with each other. Not only does this war have its own casualties- it also prevents the hot tantric intercourse between thought and belief so necessary for creating excellent human beings. Without thought, belief becomes illogical, and without belief, thought loses the ability to address anything but the most base human concerns. Mercury loses his wings.
Ironically, it is the belief stretched out on a scaffolding of logic that has been responsible for the most remarkable discoveries within material science. Einstein’s breakthroughs in mathematics were preceded by a vision, and a belief that the vision had a logic to it. He unpacked the logic within the vision, because he believed that there was a hidden validity to it. The proof did not come first. Vision and belief in something without any evidence came first. .
What about thoughtful belief? Well, last I checked, professional athletes all around the world were being trained to visualize success, because it increases the probability of success. Last I checked, the Placebo Effect was tremendously important, because people who believe they are getting better get better. Last time I checked, millions of people were paying millions of dollars to learn about “the power of positive thinking” because it changes life’s circumstances. And, last time I checked, the various alternative “spiritual” traditions (magick, yoga, paganism, etc.) were the home to finest and most comprehensive set of techniques for thoughtful belief.
The most frustrating thing about this pseudo-debate is that by taking either side, you lose. You lose the ability to choose your beliefs, to believe creatively and strategically. You lose the ability to fashion and honor the gods and goddesses that inspire you. You lose the ability to conceive of your ideals in a form that you can replicate.
Within the shell of what is called “religion” is the personal technology to incorporate the powers, virtues and understanding of the gods into your life. These are the power-tools of intelligent belief, and neither the New Atheists or the Old Theists provide us with them.
LMD: I couldn’t agree more. Please don’t think I’m denigrating the power of ‘faith’ or the value of ‘belief’ as necessary ingredients in the recipe of evolving humanity. As far as I can tell it is faith that allowed me to wake up in this morning in almost the same universe I fell asleep in last night. Faith allows the 747 to fly. Faith put us on the moon. But faith unwisely focused also flies planes into buildings, elects villains, and melts the polar ice caps.
You know… as a phony Rabbi (and a real Freemason) I have a special place in my heart for King Solomon. The myth of Solomon provides us with a wonderful example of how to, as you say, believe creatively and strategically. According to tradition, when Solomon became king he first offered a prayer to his God (an act of faith directed at an invisible authority) and asked, not for wealth or power, but for “wisdom” to exercise his power for the benefit of his kingdom and his people – faith creatively and strategically focused. This faith-based connection gave him, in turn, the power and authority to command the ‘infernal’ spirits and demons who do all the heavy lifting in the universe to help him build a Temple on earth worthy of housing the presence of the Deity. Now, I don’t have to believe that Solomon as portrayed in the Bible or in Masonic legend actually existed in objective history to make his story a powerful spiritual reality in my life. If someday we find archaeological evidence that proves that the stories of Moses and David and Solomon and ancient Israel, and Jesus and Mohammad and were all untrue, that these characters did not live in objective and empirical history, it would not diminish in any way their spiritual impact on my life. In a way it is because I’ve become as it were a spiritual grownup. I loved believing in Santa Claus when I was a child. I cried when I learned he did not exist. But once I accepted it, a greater, more profound Santa Claus replaced the phony one – a spiritual Santa Claus who is embodied in the mad jovial generosity of a season of giving. Santa Claus is more real to me than when I was a child. I even grew up to look like him!
I believe it is now time for the three “People of the Book” to become spiritual grown ups … time to free their people from the bondage of insisting their faith is founded on bigoted and narrow interpretations of fragile history; time let their people go to the promised land of spiritual maturity.
Well, Rabbi, I hate to cut it short, but I’m already a little tipsy and I have to drive all the way down to the Malbolgia tonight to meet some friends. You know, Circle 8, trench 4? All the good astrologers hang out there. Ptolemy, Vettius Valens, Kepler- even William “I’m still Christian!” Lilly’s there. We’re working on predicting whose going to get paroled first. Valens has a strong Jupiter transiting his twelth house with a lot of natal support, so my money’s on him, but you know how it goes.
Say…Rabbi…how did you end up here, anyway? Shouldn’t you be down in Circle 6, with the Heretics? I’ve heard Blavatsky’s got a thing for pseudo-rabbis…
(Originally Published March 20, 2007)