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I consider skepticism a way station on the way to a higher, more fulfilling kind of spirituality.

Millions of people have walked away from organized religion to become more spiritual, not less. They call themselves seekers; their disbelief is a starting point for starting their own investigations.

121021131717-deepak-chopra-medium-plus-169Deepak Chopra wants something from atheists. I somehow doubt he knows what that is anymore than the rest of us do, but his efforts to feign dialogue with unbelievers are among the creepier things one can encounter on the net. If you’re not careful you may encounter his particular brand of word salad on the #atheism hashtag at twitter, but don’t try too hard to make sense of his posts. That way lies madness!

And then the man lays this egg just before Easter weekend. It purports to be a critique of atheism, but of course it isn’t. What Chopra is doing in this post is passing off a story for a criticism, and it isn’t really a story about atheism at all. It is a story about the heroism of those who struggle with skepticism and in the end emerge victoriously with some sort of faith intact. What that belief is, or even how much the hero of his story is supposed to believe it, Deepak does not exactly tell us.

…but they will surely believe in something.

…kind of.

What does atheism have to do with this story, you might ask? Well we are one of the monsters to be encountered along the way. Near as I can tell, we represent a kind of undead to him. We are people who lost the struggle. Somewhere along the way, it would seem that we gave up all religious beliefs and thus fell into outer darkness, condemned to haunt the world of spiritual questers for the balance of our lives (or at least until Aragorn releases us from our obligations after helping in some epic battle). It is our role to test the faithful, and perhaps to bring down the champions of bad beliefs, but not to taken too seriously in our own right. Those on Deepak’s spiritual quest must ultimately get past us.

Okay, so Deepak didn’t mention Lord of the Rings. I know. But what he did do is tell us a story in which organized religion (presumably conservative Christians) and unbelievers both simply fail to meet his ideal. What that ideal is, Deepak doesn’t say. And given insistence that beliefs fall upon a sliding scale, it seems fair to suggest no answer will be forthcoming, or at least that no answer will take the form of a definitive belief. It isn’t a straight forward belief that interests Deepak so much as a kind of belief, well-hedged, and almost asserted, kind of. This belief is something about which people are not quiet certain, but certainly haven’t given up altogether. He can describe this state in the third person, but cannot assert it directly without contradicting himself (or at least in some sense preserving the option to disavow it at some point or another). Thus, it is easier for Deepak to tell us a story about the quest for this state than it is to outline the features of the beliefs in question.

One might suggest that those beliefs reside somewhere in the space between the hard problem of consciousness and current state of modern science. (We could call this land Adignorantia!) Alternatively, it could lie somewhere in that layer subatomic mysticism in which Deepak imagines Quantum Mechanics to have found a playground for wishful thinking. Either way the place in which Deepak’s beliefs reside is a place in which his word salad will actually mean something, so we are invited to imagine. It lies at the end of a never-ending quest, and if we can’t quite make sense of it today, well then that is because we aren’t there yet.

Keep trying!

One of the more amusing aspects of this game is that everyone can play it. The secular version is at least as old as Auguste Comte and his stages of progress (in which man progresses from theology, metaphysics, to positivism in every branch of study). Modern unbelievers play it every time they call religious beliefs superstition or speak of secularism as something that arises naturally from scientific progress. Conservative Christian variations are usually more personal (and hence far more interesting), but of course the tradition goes back far in the history of apologetics. The process of coming to believe appears in the all-better-now narratives of Christians throughout history (from St. Augustine or C.S. Lewis to – I’m sorry about this… Kirk Cameron). Some of these stories are profound. Some of them are damned trite. Either way, it is a common enough gambit for folks to ensnare their opponents in their life stories, the passing off a story in which unbelief appears quite as a matter of fact to be a plague in one’s life for a direct criticism demonstrating that it really is so, or even that it is simply wrong.

…or better yet, that what one actually believes is correct.

Whether it be an argument from personal biography or faith in some universal arch of progress, stories in which the happy ending takes the form of what one chooses to believe are a dime a dozen. If Chopra has anything unique to add to this it is little other than his own unique brand of obscurantism and pseudo-science. he is otherwise, treading in tired waters. It’s an easy enough game to play, telling a story in which someone else’s way of thinking is but a stage on the way to some higher calling. There was a time when I once enjoyed telling such stories mys… Oh wait a minute!

So, in the end what is wrong with Atheism according to Chopra? It would seem to be that it’s simply our role to be wrong in his script.

Meh, …I can live with that.