Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gems from the Forums: Nietzsche and Thelema

Over the years at, I’ve made a number of posts discussing the finer points of Nietzsche’s philosophical writings and its relationship to Crowley’s Thelema (I hesitate to speak of Nietzsche’s “system,” as that is probably not the right word to use).

I thought it would be useful and instructive to compile them into a single blog entry.

In the spirit of Nietzschean philosophizing, I’ve decided not to try to turn these disparate thoughts, collected over several years, into a single, cohesive essay. They remain fragments, written in response to various interlocutors who appear below as block quotes.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Interesting Video of the Moment II: Why Do You Believe Without a Good Reason?

The second interesting video is another sampling from The Atheist Experience in which Matt Dillahunty and Tracie Harris talk about the strange phenomenon of people believing supernatural claims without sufficient evidence and without being able to give a good reason for why they believe.

Tracie gives a very striking account of her own history of escaping from supernaturalism, pointing out that even after she rejected Christianity, it took her the better part of a decade to slowly realize that supernaturalism itself was unsupported by evidence.

What’s most fascinating about her account is her assertion that her belief was something she *felt.*.In other words, her belief was “supported” merely by a kind of experience. Similar kinds of flimsy appeals to "experience" often prop up many supernatural beliefs from across the spiritual spectrum (including especially many of those discussed on this blog).

As ever, we ought to be aware that experience, all by itself, has no explanatory power. It is our interpretations of our experience (the explanations our rational minds attach to those experiences) that need to be carefully interrogated.

Tracie tentatively concludes that her “feelings” were ultimately the result of childhood indoctrination, and I am inclined to agree that in many cases indoctrination is at the root of people "feeling" the truth of something supernatural. It would seem that many “occult” supernaturalists frequently come from backgrounds of childhood indoctrination.

We might add indoctrination to a list of other reasons that people might believe claims for which they don't have any good reason or evidence: the fact that most people are bad or lazy thinkers, the fact that the vast majority of people don't question fundamental assumptions held by the culture around them, the fact that we are inclined to put too much emphasis on our own subjective interpretation of the facts or on our own precious feelings.
To bring this discussion around to Thelema -- and more specifically to the supernaturalist religions that many people practice and insist on calling "Thelema" -- I get the strong impression (as I've said a few times now) that many Thelemites see Thelema not as an alternative to superstition, but an alternate kind of superstition. This is because they come out of supernaturalist religions, and while they reject those religions as B.S., they don’t take the time to figure out why exactly those religions are B.S.

To put it another way, they leave supernaturalist religions, rejecting the “religion” part but cleaving to the “supernatural” part (in the same way that Tracie says she rejected Christianity but remained a believer in supernaturalism).
I think a great deal of people encounter Thelema as “seekers” undergoing a phase similar to that which Tracie describes during those ten years: flailing around with a vague “feeling” of divinity, convinced that there must be “something” supernatural (after all, they experience it!) and seeking a system or framework into which they can pour their extremely vague and flimsy ideas.
If that’s true, then it’s no surprise that a great number of people interested in Thelema appear to be flakes who cannot coherently explain their beliefs. You can consult this post I wrote a while back for an example of what happens when these people sit down and try to be honest with themselves about their “religion.”
You can watch the Atheist Experience video here.

Interesting Video of the Moment: The Failure of Prayer and Miracles

Presented for your viewing pleasure is a clip from the public access and internet show The Atheist Experience in which the hosts field a call from an ex-Mormon who says that he still “felt something” when he prayed.

I can’t help but think about what this kid says in the context of magick-practitioners who talk themselves into “feeling” all sorts of things that make them think that their magick “works.” It’s a very similar variety of crappy logic that undergirds all of these appeals to “personal experience” in validating the supernatural.

Among the interesting topics addressed (speedily!) in this video include how one knows that the cause of one's feelings is “supernatural,” the need to avoid the argument from ignorance, the Templeton Foundation study that demonstrated prayer does not work better than chance, the lack of evidence for miracles, the trivial kinds of things often claimed as “miracles,” the fact that “intuition” is nothing more than guessing and is susceptible to confirmation bias, and our own infatuation with our mind’s  ability to draw conclusions and see patterns.

You can watch the video here. Enjoy!