Saturday, March 29, 2014

HOW TO LIVE WITH YOURSELF

‘As you ramble through life, brother, whatever be your goal:
keep your eyes upon the donut, and not upon the hole!’ Dr Murray Banks.



Dedicated to Nick S-G, who borrowed my copy of
How to Live with Yourself … or … What to do Until the 
Psychiatrist Comes some ten or more years ago ...
and never returned it. You can keep it, mate.
I've since bought another copy.


Have you heard of Dr Murray Banks [pictured left, and below], American professor of psychology, clinical psychologist, author, widely syndicated newspaper columnist, prolific recording artist, TV guest star, international speaker and circuit lecturer-at-large on the subject of ‘mental hygiene,’ cracker-barrel psychologist cum humourist, and all-round entertainer extraordinaire?

Chances are, you haven’t heard of him. Indeed, well before Dr Banks died without fanfare in 2008 he was for the most part a forgotten man, yet for over 25 years people all around the world waited in lines for hours around city blocks to buy tickets to his public lectures on matters psychological. When I first heard of the man, and purchased a couple of his LP recordings at secondhand shops back in the early 1970s, he was still riding high. I understand that he was still ‘working’ cruise ships until at least the mid-1990s, but by then he had largely faded from the public eye. 

Still, many of Dr Banks' recordings are available today on iTunes, eBay and Amazon.com, as well as on YouTube, and secondhand copies of his books are also available on various sites, including Amazon.com. The titles of his recordings and books say much about the man himself---titles such as How to Live with Yourself … or … What to do Until the Psychiatrist Comes, Just In Case You Think You're Normal, The Drama of Sex, Stop the World I Want to Get Off, Dr Murray Banks Tells How to Quit Smoking in Six Days or Drop Dead in Seven!, and Anyone Who Goes To The Psychiatrist - Should Have His Head Examined! 

Dr Murray Banks was no slouch or mere purveyor of 'pop psychology,' although he was at least in part the latter. In his heyday he was one of the most sought-after speakers in America in the 1950s and 60s. He captivated audiences with his humour and insight into the human mind, and this is clearly evident if you take even a little time to listen to his lectures some of which that have been preserved on vinyl and more recently in digital form. He was best-known for the speech, ‘What to do Until the Psychiatrist Comes.’ That speech, so I’ve read, turned out to be the second most heard speech in history. By the mid-1960s Banks had given the speech in person over 5,000 times in every English speaking country in the world. 

I live in Australia, and I am aware that Banks lectured here in 1961, 1965, and 1971, and possibly in other years as well. In that regard, I have seen a reference on the internet to the effect that he made personal appearances in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia in the mid-1990s. I do know this---his appearances at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne outsold the hit musical of the day, Hello, Dolly! Yes, he left quite an impression here in Australia on the occasions he was here, and his lectures in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and South Africa were extremely successful as well. Indeed, it is said that Banks, who was always a most powerful and entertaining presence on stage, spoke in every English-speaking country in the world. One thing is clear---while he lived he addressed some of the largest audiences ever gathered to hear one person’s thoughts on the workings of human mind and on how to stay mentally well.

Dr Banks was also an academic of some renown. A graduate of New York and Columbia Universities, he did postgraduate work at Rutgers University and post-doctoral research at Harvard, and undertook his clinical psychopathology study at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. A clinical psychologist, he was for a time a full professor of psychology at Long Island University as well as at Pace College, New York City, where he headed the psychology department, and was in charge of psychology courses, for over 5 years. 

The redoubtable Dr Banks was also for a time a visiting professor of psychology and/or special lecturer on psychology and other subjects at a number of American higher educational institutions including San Diego State College, Memphis State University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, the University of North Carolina, New York University, New York Institute of Technology, Temple University, New Jersey State Teacher's College, the University of Pittsburgh, and Brooklyn College. All very impressive. Yet, having said all that, there is precious little on the internet about the man---not even a Wikipedia profile. Not much hope for me. I am a forgotten man already.

In what was perhaps his most well-known and successful recording,  How to Live with Yourself … or … What to Do Until the Psychiatrist Comes, Dr Banks set forth his ‘Ten Sound Principles of Mental Hygiene.’ Here they are:

1. Are you happy? We all want to be happy but few of us seem to know that happiness cannot be obtained directly. Happiness is a by‑product of effective life adjustment. Prolonged unhappiness is a sign of illness---mental illness. It may even lead to physical illness as well.

2. Do you have zest or enthusiasm for living? Do you invite yourself to celebrate life? Can you enjoy the epiphany of the moment?


3. Are you socially adjusted? Being with others and sharing and otherwise interacting successfully with others is a very important part of a sound adjustment. A loss of interest in others may be the beginning of apathy (a lack of feeling) or depression. You reduce your chances of mental illness by saying ‘YES!’ to life.

4. Do you have unity and balance? Are you relatively ‘together’ in what you think and do? Reach out to others. Get involved. Get your mind off yourself. Develop many interests. Try not to wrap your life around any one thing, no matter how important that is to you. We need many supports and interests in life.


5. Can you live with each problem as it arises? Do you worry about things that never happen? We need to learn to live in the NOW. Now is the only moment that we will ever be sure of. The past is a cancelled cheque; the future is an IOU.

6. Do you have insight into your own conduct? Do you know the real, underlying reasons behind what you do? There is always a reason for any human behaviour, and the task of a psychiatrist or psychology is to help you help yourself. For example, a psychiatrist or psychologist helps you understand and attack your fears and your other maladjustments to life, that is, to challenge your ‘stinkin’ thinkin’’ (to use an AA turn of phrase).


7. Do you have a confidential relationship with some other person? Can you talk to, and share your feelings and thoughts with, intimate others? Many who have no trusted intimate friends find themselves in need of ‘renting’ an empathetic ear in the form of a psychotherapist of some kind.

8. Do you have sense of the ridiculous? Can you laugh? Easily? And at yourself? Laughter is the sunshine of the soul. It can heal illness. A sense of humour gets us through many tough times. You must learn to laugh! Have you been a good student? When did your stomach muscles hurt from extended laughing?


9. Are you engaged in satisfying work? We don't seem to ‘break down’ (note: Banks would often make the point that ‘nerves do not break down’) from over‑work as much as we do from over‑stress and over‑worry. How can we turn a distressful situation into something we can live with?

10. Do you know how to worry effectively? There's only one thing to do about worry---do something active about the cause of your worry. As Dr Norman Vincent Peale used to say, we are not born with the worry habit. We acquire it through experience. And because we can change any habit and any acquired mental attitude, we can always do something about worry, including casting it from our mind.

Banks would make the obvious point that we all have problems, frustrations, worries, stressors, fears, anger, guilt, etc. We can learn to adjust by applying the 10 principles listed above. Sometimes professional help from trained and experienced psychotherapists is needed.

Banks would also make the point that we learn so much rubbish at school and college, but not what we need to know to stay mentally well. I couldn’t agree more. He would speak a lot about ‘adjustments,’ and how we are all constantly making adjustments in life as a result of and in response to the daily occurrences and happenings of life. Many of the adjustments to life we make are unhealthy ones---that’s why we speak of ‘maladjustments.’ Banks would say, ‘The important thing, ladies and gentlemen, is---what kind of adjustments do you make when life hands you a dirty deal?’ The task is simple, but not easy---how do we learn to make healthy, positive adjustments to life.

You know, that word ‘learn’ is so very important. Banks would make the point that whilst none of us are born insane or even mentally maladjusted, we still need to learn how to stay mentally well. (That’s right. He says it doesn’t seem to come naturally, and I agree.) He identified our basic human needs as being these four: the need to live,  the need to love and be loved,  the need to feel important, and the need to experience variety in our lives.

All good stuff. So simple, yet so very profound. People pay hundreds of dollars to hear that from private consulting psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. 

Now, do yourself a favour. Listen to or read some of Dr Banks’ material. It’s not that hard to find on the internet. Spending some time with Dr Banks---bless you, Dr Banks, wherever you are---will do you no end of good---and you will laugh at the same time. And laughter, as Reader’s Digest has kept telling us for several decades, is the best medicine. You’d better believe it.

I leave you with this gem from Dr Banks, which I hope will stay with you for the rest of your life:

‘I hope you'll never forget, never, that happiness is just like chasing a butterfly. The more you chase it and chase it and chase it directly, it will always just elude you. But if you sit down quietly, turn your thoughts to other things, the butterfly comes and softly sits on your shoulders.’ 





IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org


Friday, March 28, 2014

MINDFULNESS MEDITATION HELPS TEENAGE CANCER SURVIVORS

Few illnesses are more serious than cancer, and when the illness affects young people it is particularly distressing---and also so unfair.

A recent clinical trial led by researchers at the University of Montreal and its affiliated CHU Sainte-Justine Children’s Hospital has shown that daily meditation can lessen some of the main psychological inconveniences ordinarily experienced by teenagers living with (including suffering or recuperating from) cancer and thereby help improve their overall mood as well as sleep patterns.

Mindfulness meditation focuses on the ‘now’---the so-called present moment, being that ‘space’ (for want of a better word) between one such moment and the next---and the connection between the mind and the body. Persons living with, as well as recovering from, cancer experience not only the physical symptoms of their condition, as well as the various treatments for the condition, but also the anxiety and uncertainty related to the possible progression of the disease and the anticipation of physical and emotional pain related to illness and treatment.


Now, as regards the above mentioned trial, the researchers asked 13 adolescents with cancer to complete questionnaires covering mood (positive and negative emotions, anxiety and depression), sleep patterns, and quality of life. The group was divided into two, with the first group of 8 adolescents being offered 8 mindfulness-based meditation sessions, and the remaining 5 adolescents in the control group being put on a wait-list. After the last meditation session, patients from both groups filled out the same questionnaires a second time.

The researchers found that teenagers who participated in the mindfulness group had lower scores in depression after completing the 8 mindfulness-based meditation sessions. Interestingly, female participants in the mindfulness group reported sleeping better than their male counterparts. The researchers also noticed that the female participants developed mindfulness skills to a greater extent than the males during the sessions.


Resource: Malboeuf-Hurtubise C, Achille M, Sultan S, and Vadnais M, ‘Mindfulness-based intervention for teenagers with cancer: study protocol for a randomized controlled trial,’ Trials 2013, 14:135  http://www.trialsjournal.com/content/14/1/135


Image (above): Don Bayley/iStockphoto.com


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IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org











Friday, March 21, 2014

DESIRE NOTHING: THE ZEN OF SAINT JOHN OF THE CROSS

So, you want to be happy, really happy? Then, here's what you need to do. Desire nothing. Desire to possess nothing. Desire to be nothing. Desire to know nothing.

Conventional Christians, especially those of an evangelical bent (how I love that word ‘bent,’ so apt in the case of those just mentioned), are very wary of Christian mysticism. Someone once said, 'Mysticism: it begins in "mist", centres in "I", and ends in schism.' Funny, but not really true. Real mysticism helps to eliminate that 'I' or self. I’m not at all wary of mysticism, because I draw from a considerable number of diverse spiritual traditions and I'm more interested in what the various world religions have in common than what divides them as well as people.

Now, the great theme throughout the ages is unity … oneness. This is so beautifully expressed in the Shema Yisrael (‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is One’ [Dt 6:4]), but the theme of unity and oneness can be found in all the world’s religions and systems of spirituality. Here’s another major theme, and important spiritual principle … the need to weed-out the personal self.

All the world’s religions stress the importance of purification. (Of course, some take this too far!) We need to progressively weaken and weed-out all of the structures of the personal self in order to open oneself to an experience of one’s True Self. This involves the complete subjugation of our lower nature by the higher. I love what William Temple had to say about the matter of selfishness. He said, ‘For the trouble is that we are self-centred, and no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavour.’ We need to be made free from all forms and notions of self-identification, self-absorption, self-obsession and self-centredness, but how is that accomplished. The ‘problem’ identified by Archbishop Temple is very real indeed.

Saint John of the Cross [pictured above and below] was a major figure of the Counter-Reformation. He was a Carmelite friar and priest … and one of the all-time great Christian mystics. He is also remembered as having been one of the greatest poets in the Spanish language, his poems being full of rich imagery and symbolism. There was a Zen-like quality to much of his spiritual writing. Take this gem, for example:

In order to arrive at pleasure in everything
Desire to have pleasure in nothing.
In order to arrive at possessing everything,
Desire to possess nothing.
In order to arrive at being everything
Desire to be nothing.
In order to arrive at knowing everything,
Desire to know nothing.
In order to arrive at that wherein thou hast no pleasure,
Thou must go by a way wherein thou hast no pleasure.
In order to arrive at that which thou knowest not
Thou must go by a way thou knowest not.
In order to arrive at that which thou possest not,
Thou must go by a way that thou possesst not.
In order to arrive at that which thou art not,
Thou must go through that which thou art not.
When thy mind dwells upon anything,
Thou art ceasing to cast thyself upon the All.
For in order to pass from the all to the All,
Thou hast to deny thyself wholly in all.
And when thou comest to possess it wholly,
Thou must possess it without desiring anything.
For, if thou wilt have anything in having all,
Thou hast not thy treasure purely in God.


All this is reminiscent of a number of recorded sayings of Jesus, such as these:

For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.’ (Mk 8:35)

But many who are first will be last, and the last first.’ (Mk 10:31)

‘Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.’ (Lk 6:21)

The mystic of whatever persuasion constantly seeks out those areas of their life which are governed by the little, selfish ‘I’, and place them under the control of the selfless ‘I’, or, if you like, the Self (Christ, God, or whatever). This is something which each of us must do for ourselves. Others can but point the way, so to speak, but we must walk the path. No other person can do that for us. Giving up, letting go, surrender---they all mean pretty much the same thing---these things are damn hard. It is like death, which each of us must face and experience personally. If we would travel far we must travel light, and in order to gain something greater, we must give up many things that hold us back. 

All this we know, but, oh, how difficult this is! The ‘old me’ must die daily … indeed, every moment of each day. We must truly want that ‘treasure’ of which Saint John of the Cross writes … and we must be willing to go to any length to get it. The recovering alcoholic and addict knows this so very well. You must too.

There is an old Christian hymn written by Helen H Lemmel that contains these beautiful lines:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Now, Christian or not, there is a ‘wonderful face’ to which we must all turn and face. For some it is the face of Jesus, for others it is the face of Buddha or some other holy person. For many who call themselves ‘spiritual but not religious,’ and others who don’t even feel comfortable with the word ‘spiritual’ (and that’s OK, too), it is the face of their own higher or best self. Whatever be that ‘face’ for you, turn your eyes upon it, never lose sight of it, look full into that wonderful face, hold that image firmly in your mind throughout the day and all the days to come … and the things of earth will grow strangely dim. They will, indeed.

Love and blessings to you all.


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Friday, March 14, 2014

THE TEMPORAL ACTIVITY OF BUDDHA


One of the best books ever written on Buddhism, indeed on meditation and the ‘inner’ life, is Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by the Japanese Sōtō Zen monk, rōshi and teacher Shunryu Suzuki [pictured above]. We all need to cultivate a ‘beginner’s mind,’ which means seeing all things as if for the first time, for we are indeed seeing all things for the very first time because everything is in a constant state of flux. Even the familiar and the everyday—those things around us that we habitually see---they never remains the same. The Zen mind is a beginner’s mind, seeing each thing in all its directness and immediacy and freshness. Everything is new and wonderful, and you are part of the ongoing unfoldment of life itself from one moment to the next. (In that regard, I am reminded of something the great German mystic Meister Eckhart once said: 'Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.')

There are many schools of Buddhism, but there is this golden thread running through all of Buddhism, namely, that each one of us can be---and in a very real sense already is---Buddha. Now, I am not talking about the historical Buddha as such. I am talking about a person or being, and also a potentiality, that is within each one of us, that is trying to burst its way into full expression in and as each one of us. This is what Shunryu Suzuki has to say about the matter in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind:

'To do something, to live in each moment, means to be the temporal activity of Buddha. To sit in this way [Zazen] is to be Buddha himself, to be as the historical Buddha was. The same thing applies to everything we do. Everything is Buddha’s activity. So whatever you do, or even if you keep from doing something, Buddha is that activity. …'

Elsewhere in his book Suzuki refers to this way of living as ‘being Buddha.’ He writes, ‘Without trying to be Buddha you are Buddha. This is how we attain enlightenment. To attain enlightenment is to be always with Buddha.’ He quotes the historical Buddha’s statement, ‘See Buddha nature in various beings, and in every one of us.’ (It is recorded in a number of Buddhist scriptures that the Buddha said that we are all buddhas, a buddha being a person who is enlightened, that is, awake. This is reminiscent of what Jesus himself affirmed, namely, 'Is is not written in your law, I said ye are gods' (Jn 10:34; cf Ps 82:6). Sadly, all too often we fail to see ourselves as we really are---and, no, despite our selfishness and self-centredness, we are not miserable sinners.)

These ideas are by no means unique to Buddhism. You find the same ideas expressed in several other religions including Christianity. The New Testament expression, ‘Christ in you, the hope of glory’ (Col 1:27) refers not so much to the historical Jesus but to what some have described as ‘one’s Inmost Self,’ and others the ‘Mystic Christ,’ the ‘Christ within.’ Still others refer to this entity or potentiality as one's 'highest self' or 'true self.'

Whatever words we use---it really does not matter ('the word is not the thing,' as Krishnamurti used to say)---we are talking about a power, potentiality and perfectibility existing and indwelling as our potential perfection but otherwise living largely undeveloped in our human spirit and ever seeking first, progressive unfoldment, and then perfect expression in our daily lives.

Now, all that will sound too airy-fairy, esoteric and mystical for some of you, so let’s try to keep it simple and practical. You are the temporal activity of Buddha (or, if you like, the Christ within) when you see all things as they really are, that is, when you live from moment to moment with a ‘beginner’s mind’ unencumbered by beliefs, opinions, and prejudices. You then experience everything for the very first time with choiceless awareness. You are living mindfully. You are in a constant state of at-one-ment or attunement with all that is. You are alive!

Of course, 'being Buddha,' or Christ for that matter, also necessitates that you be kind, loving and compassionate. That goes without saying. One is never awakened or enlightened in selfish isolation from other people. We are only Buddha, or in touch with the Christ within, when we are in complete attunement with the spirit of love. On the subject of selfishness, I have always liked what another great Sōtō Zen monk, rōshi and teacher Dainin Katagiri had to say: 'To be selfish means we attach to our self as our first concern. It's very difficult to be free of this.' By 'self' Katagiri is referring to one's 'false' or 'lower' self consisting of our likes, dislikes, attachments, aversions, prejudices, beliefs, etc. By the way, Katagiri was for a number of years closely associated with Shunryu Suzuki at the famous San Francisco Zen Center where I myself have attended some talks. 

The Zen mind---the quiet, still, but ever-aware and curious mind---is a beginner’s mind. Become a beginner, and live that way from now on. You can do no better.



Friday, March 7, 2014

GOD IS NOT ABOVE LOGIC

I have engaged in some prominent debates with Sydney Anglican (read Episcopalian, if you're American or Scottish) bishops and the like at various universities over the years on such important topics as the existence of God and whether Jesus physically rose from the dead. One of the bishops I debated in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney was Dr Glenn Davies [pictured below] who is now the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney. At least I found him to be a real gentleman. He was also no dill, although I didn’t find him to be much of a debater, nor apparently did a number of his Christian supporters---including some prominent members of the Sydney University Evangelical Union who organized the debate---who wrote to me after the debate saying that even they thought I had ‘won’ the debate. Of course, that neither proves nor disproves anything at all. Important issues of the kind in question are not truly resolved one way or the other by formal debates governed by the rules of debate.


I was the ‘atheist’ in these debates. Well, I wasn’t just play-acting for I reject all forms of traditional theism. If there is a ‘God’ that God is certainly not the crude anthropomorphic ‘being’ in whom my opponents believed. Atheists do not necessarily reject or deny the existence of God, rather they simply lack theistic belief (Greek áthe (os) god-less + -ist). Most, if not all, agnostics, are really ‘soft’ atheists, for they too lack theistic belief and, like atheists, live their lives as if there were no God, which may well be the case in any event. In other words, agnostics, by virtue of their lack or absence of theistic belief, are for all intents and purposes what are known as 'practical atheists,' as opposed to those who are metaphysical or philosophical ('hard') atheists. Forgive me, I digress (as usual).

Now, in the debates in which I participated I would seek to demolish the traditional, classical so-called ‘proofs’ for the existence of God. My opponents, knowing full well that those ‘proofs’ are all fundamentally flawed and have been found wanting by those 'evil, atheistic philosophers,' would invariably seek to rely upon what is known as presuppositional apologetics. A presupposition is an assumption that is taken for granted. That is, they would take for granted God’s existence---yes, Christian presuppositionalism presupposes the existence of an absolute God and temporal creation---because their a priori Christian beliefs would not allow them to proceed otherwise. 

You see the Christian presuppositionalist's 'reasoning' is derived from their basic presuppositions from which they refuse to budge no matter what counter-reasoning is presented by their opponent. They take for granted the truth and reliability of the Christian Scriptures and assume from the beginning the supernatural revelation of the Bible as the ultimate arbiter of truth and error. They then try to show how belief in the Christian God, Jesus, the Bible, the 'miracles', etc, is supposedly more reasonable than non-belief in those things. Amazing, really. You see, in light of their presuppositions about things metaphysic they see all thinking on such matters---well, at least their thinking---as being wholly receptively reconstructive of their (note this---narrow, emphatic evangelical) interpretation of what is set forth in the Bible as supposedly being God's Word (that is, God's thinking).

My Christian opponents’ arguments rested almost entirely on an absolutist belief in the Bible as the source of truth because the Bible is supposedly inspired by God, in whom, so we are told, we can believe because the Bible affirms it, and the Bible is the source of truth. ('Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.' Well, the Bible must be right, mustn't it? Because the Bible is the Word of God. It says so. So it must be right. Etc, etc.) This sort of reasoning is entirely circular and tautological, and is little more than fideism, which asserts---in its strongest form---that belief in the existence of God cannot be established by reason at all, but must be accepted or rejected wholly upon faith. 

In at least one of the debates in which I participated my opponent told the audience that, given my rationalistic worldview, I was simply incapable of entertaining any worldview of a 'supernaturalistic' kind. In other words, he was accusing me of presuppositionalism---of a naturalistic, rationalistic kind. Not so. I do not start with any such presupposition. My present position is simply that the physical world in which we live yields no credible or reliable evidence of 'supernaturalism.' This is not a naturalistic bias on my part at all. Not at all. I repeat, I do not start from any naturalistic or rationalistic presuppositions. For example, believing that there are no good reasons for believing that God exists does not necessitate that God does not and cannot exist since mere belief is not proof that God either exists or doesn’t exist. Although I lack theistic belief my mind is not closed to the possibility of God existing, although I think that’s most unlikely. My mind is not foreclosed to reason, counter-argument or evidence to the contrary. I fear, however, that my Christian opponents' minds were foreclosed. Their theistic presuppositions could not under any circumstances allow them to rightly determine God’s non-existence from evidence. Their basic presuppositions compelled them to always interpret all evidence in a manner consistent with those absolutist presuppositions.

With Bishop Robert Forsyth, the Anglican Bishop of South Sydney,
whom I debated in 2005 at the University of Technology, Sydney

In these debates---as in my various writings---I tried wherever possible to rely on reason and its principal ‘tool’, logic. (I must be honest. I would from time to time also employ some ridicule and theatrics well.) Now, when I use the word ‘logic’ I am referring to traditional Aristotelian logic. My opponents would then retort, ‘God is above the rules of logic.’ Really? That can’t be right. Now, for the sake of what follows, let’s assume that there is a God of the kind my learned clerical opponents claimed made the world, is watching attentively over it, and so on. How could this God be ‘above’---whatever that word means in this context---the rules of logic?

First, the assertion that God is above logic is not an a priori proposition. Where is the theist’s proof for this assertion? In fact, the theist, although rejecting the applicability of logic, always ends up applying logic, albeit wrongly. Theists tend to do that, and they end up tying themselves into knots of their own making.

Secondly, what is the point of reasoning about God if the principal tool of reason---that is, logic----is inapplicable or unreliable. Never forget that logic is about things, not thought, and about how things are related to other things. It is always a case of … what is.  As the Scottish born-Australian philosopher John Anderson [pictured below left] pointed out, there is only one order or level of reality such that a single logic applies to all things and how they are related to each other. There can be nothing ‘above’ or ‘below’ the proposition---not even God. Anderson was a realist, an empiricist, and in more recent times I have come to see that idealism and realism are not really in conflict with each other. Indeed, they need each other, and they even complement each other. Irrespective of whether or not you accept Anderson’s strict realism, I think what he said about there being only one order or level of reality is true, even if one embraces monistic idealism.

Thirdly, and most importantly, if there were anything above logic we simply could not trust our senses at all. All our attempts at fact-finding, determining what conclusions and inferences can be drawn from any given set of facts before us, and drawing appropriate conclusions and inferences from those facts, would be futile---and we know that is not the case. We can reason---and we must ... if we are to know our true bearings and 'navigate' our way successfully through life. With our eyes open, and wide awake, I mean.

Fourthly, if God were above logic there could be no interpretation (logical extrapolation) of God’s Word or Christian apologetics. For example, the various arguments for the Trinity would collapse. They’re pretty weak in any event, but that’s another story.

Fifthly, the theist does in fact use logic when expedient, that is, when it suits their purposes. Take, for example, the law of non-contradiction (viz that anything with a contradictory nature cannot exist). The theist affirms that God cannot contradict Himself. Thus, God cannot create a rock that God can’t lift. God cannot create a round square. God cannot make the immoral moral. God may be all-powerful but God is still constrained by logic. If that were not so, then there would be nothing to stop God from creating a rock so heavy that God could not lift it and then in the next moment lift it. In short, a God ‘above’ logic doesn’t make sense at all. It is inconsistent with the very attributes that are said go to make up God (reason being one of them). Reason and observation tell us that nothing can be done by anything---including God---that is not otherwise part of its capabilities.

Finally, assuming, for the moment that the God of traditional theism does in fact exist---something which, in my opinion, is highly unlikely indeed---that God would not be above logic nor below it. As with morality or goodness, reason would have to be an integral part of the nature of God. It would not be a question of God ‘submitting’ to logic nor could it be truly said that God arbitrarily created reason. In short, reason, a fundamental human capability, would have to be seen to be part of God’s nature and, once again, as the theist keeps on telling us, God does not and cannot contradict His own nature.

Of course, all that assumes that the God of traditional theism does in fact exist. I have written and spoken elsewhere on that matter.