Jim Eshelman’s “Temple of Thelema” forums (found here) is, in my humble estimation, a regular fruitcake factory. While there are sometimes interesting nuggets to be had in these forums, many of the “discussions” there are filled with ridiculous supernatural claims and all sorts of distractionary nonsense that are little more than impediments to serious students of Thelema. It’s unfortunate that a number of participants in the threads seem to be sincere seekers who are looking for truth and are, instead, being peddled supernatural claptrap.
[For relevant background information, see here, here, and here for Erwin Hessle’s insightful posts about dumb comments Eshelman has made in public and about how serious Eshelman's organization appears to be]
On one recent thread over there, one poster was explaining to the others that none of the supernatural tripe they believe in is actually real. As would be expected, these religious believers didn’t take very kindly to someone pointing this out, and Eshelman posted a short rant misdescribing such a basic observation as a “fundamentalist religion.”
This post will refute Eshelman’s rant.
Here is the text of Eshelman’s response:
[The poster in question] is here preaching his own fundamentalist religion.
If a fundamentalist Christian came on this forum, they would be welcome. If they started preaching Christianity on every thread they touched, it would seem out of place to the community, and off-topic to the forum. That doesn't actually mean there's anything bad about it, except in the way that "dirt" is defined as "matter in the wrong place."
[The poster he’s addressing] is here preaching a different religion: fundamentalist materialism. Materialism is every bit as much a religion as, say, Christianity. (Materialism, formally defined, is the belief that only matter exists or, in any case, that matter is the controlling agent. Informally, there are variants on this.)
His preaching of this alternate religion is as out of place to this community, and as off-topic to this forum, as the theoretical fundamentalist Christian mentioned above. He is "dirt" in the specific sense of "matter in the wrong place."
This doesn't mean he has nothing to contribute. For one thing, I'm always happy to see someone mention that the Great Work involves work - actual work. Even though we sometimes differ on what that looks like in practice, we to share that common value in much the same way that Jews and Mormons both value Adam.
In the first place, let's note that Eshelman defines materialism as “the belief that only matter exists or, in any case, that matter is the controlling agent.”
As I suggested in the introductory post of this blog, a better definition of naturalism (which is a term I use interchangeably with materialism) is “the philosophical position that the natural world is the only world that is demonstrable and thus the only one we are justified in accepting.”
In other words, it’s obvious that the material world exists. We have plenty of evidence of this fact. Until and unless there is convincing evidence that some other world exists, the default position is to believe in the material world and not in any other worlds.
While it may be true that philosophical materialism is some kind of belief, as we can see, the position that I’ve advanced above – which nearly all naturalists would agree with, from what I can tell – makes “materialism” not a dogmatic belief of any kind, but simply the lack of belief in non-material worlds. This lack of belief exists for the same reason that an atheist lacks belief in gods: there is insufficient evidence to convince the materialist that there is any other world than the material one.
After all, everything we have learned about the universe in the past few hundred years is entirely consistent with a naturalist/materialist perspective, absolutely nothing we’ve discovered suggests that there is some other world out there, and much of what we have uncovered about brain science – such as, for example, the fact that consciousness appears to depend on brain chemistry – suggests very, very strongly that consciousness, which was once considered ooky-spooky mysterious and divided from the material world in a dualistic way, is simply an emergent property of material things.
In other words, the materialist position is one that is founded upon evidence. A great deal of evidence.
Look at the sneaky move Eshelman pulls next, trying to equate an evidence-based position with a faith-based position:
Materialism is every bit as much a religion as, say, Christianity.
Religionists of all stripes love to claim that their stupid, faith-based positions are on equal footing with positions that are evidence-based. The reason for this is that it places all positions on an equal plane and suggests that there is no objective way to differentiate one position from another. This being the case, the religionist is free to continue believing in his stupid position because “Hey, the other position’s just as much a religion, man.”
In actuality, pointing out that the material world is the only world for which human beings have evidence is no more “fundamentalist religion” than pointing out that evidence strongly suggests that there’s only one sun in our solar system.
But religious believers – especially religious believers who have made a reputation out of peddling vacuous supernatural answers to life’s questions – have a vested interest in trying to pretend that every position whatsoever is a “religion.”
Ironically, Eshelman agrees with the other poster that Thelema requires “work.” Unfotunately, the “work” Eshelman appears to be interested in is the “work” of religiously clinging to Crowley’s instructions, believing all manner of supernatural tripe on the basis that it “works for him” and that it’s “true to him," and engaging in imagination exercises that are as effective at discovering the true will as watching TV.
Indeed, Thelema requires work, and the hardest work for many people is surrendering the false beliefs that they have, in many cases, spent a lifetime building up. Until they do, they will be stuck in a mental prison of their own creation.