Gospel & Universe
This page argues that while dreams are a tempting metaphor for death, they are unreliable guides to religious experience or religious doctrine
Reveries - Bit Torrent Dream - Dreams Without Belief - Dreams - The Sanctification of Dreams
Agnosticism is the step you take
toward existentialism and Sartre
until Camus stays your gait
and steers you toward something
that might be anything else
It's hard to imagine death
because everything with which you imagine it
is a function of life
Your brain thinks it
but your fingers can’t imagine it
You’ve never not breathed
or at least
not that you can recall
The only metaphor that makes sense
from your toes to your cerebral cortex
and in that sleep of death what dreams may come
So you imagine yourself going to sleep
and then waking up
except that you don't know what it is
that you're supposed to have dreamed
You imagined that you’d wake up
in some new world of pink clouds and harps
at the sound of your alarm clock
your eyes refreshed with the long sleep
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
You remember buying a ticket for the boat
and imagining that you were going to be dipped
in the River of Oblivion
but you don’t feel refreshed at all
more like hungover
you can’t even remember the party
You look over to the clock
and all it says is 3:00 AM
Bit Torrent Dream
I recently had a dream that I was at the edge of a river and looked over at the deep current, which was more powerful than any current I'd ever felt. Within the logic of the dream, the deep part of the river wasn’t just over there; it was also inside me.
The dream current also frightened me, like the times in Mexico and Italy when I was caught in earthquakes, when the earth revealed its power for a minute or two. The current also seemed like a flowing portal to another style of existence, to another mode of being on a scale of power I had never known. One that could completely obliterate me. Or would it?
Then I woke up.
I wonder if a current flows through us and out into the world -- and from the world into the depths of space. And vice versa. On earth as it is in the heavens.
Can this current be everywhere, and yet nowhere to be seen? Is it energy, emotion, spirit, love? Do we need to follow any particular belief to be part of it, or is it just a question of plugging in -- or rather of diving in? Could it possibly take all the bits and connect them? Could they flow like electrons in copper wire, like light in optical fibre, like souls in a cosmic stream, from one side of existence to the next?
Dreams Without Belief
The problem with conviction is that we recreate the world in our brains. We recreate things so real, so loaded with verisimilitude, that we take them for real. Trips, dreams, and religious visions may seem real at the time of experience. Yet these visions -- in which we float, become one with the universe, or feel the divine love of some deity -- are unreliable guides to what's out there in the vast universe, and even to what's in there in the depths of our psyche. We barely understand the nature of thought; we have yet to grasp how neurons can create emotion, as opposed to mechanistic response. How can we know the meaning of the things that come to us in the dream worlds of drugs, sleep, or religion?
Effervescent, golden, or dark,
they wind their way through the brain;
engines on their way to who knows where.
Yet we let them take us for a ride;
we sail in the wake of those emotions,
riding the deep red river of that blood.
With their strange cargo of urges,
they move in and out
the elusive chambers of the heart.
With their oblong baggage and box-car wisdom
they take us to unknown junctions.
They carry us farther than the momentary pounding and echo of our frame.
They carry us beyond our selves,
beyond our body’s sense of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch,
yet all within the throbbing visions of our skull,
to and from some other world of touch, smell, taste, sound and sight.
Once the dream has fled we ask ourselves what it meant:
was it to lend us something that in waking we cannot know?
Was it to deny us the world this knowledge held?
Was it to warn us that life itself will come and go,
all its moments lost in the departure of the invisible train?
Was it a glimpse of change,
of the self’s flow from form to form?
Our self itself has moods unknown to us,
realms into which we step
and stretch our sense of what we are.
The Sanctification of Dreams
From Gilgamesh to The Bible, dreams have been seen as portals to divine knowledge. Yet we know how unreliable they can be. We know how often they seem to be a confused reflection or idiosyncratic reworking of our own experiences, thoughts, fears, and fantasies. We also know that we construct the world in our brains: the details of life out there, outside of our bodies, are filtered through the senses and we recreate what our senses sensed out there in here, within the strange and staggeringly complex patterns of our brains.
Dreams appear to be the reworking of all the impulses that are already in our body and mind when our head hits the pillow -- plus a bunch of other things that appear to be extrapolations of the sub- or semi-conscious parts of our body and brain. I don't pretend to understand dreams, yet two things I do know: 1. they can be absolutely bizarre, and 2. those who dream intensely would be in deep trouble if they confused their dreams for reality. And yet, religious people still defer to dreams and visions -- even to those that they haven't themselves experienced. The dreams of others.
The pagan enemies of Israel had a divinely inspired dream. God told Gideon to sneak into the enemy camp at night … God sent an angel to him in a dream, convincing him that the pregnancy was of God … And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven ... Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more … At Gideon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.”… the Lord came to Abram in a vision … at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold … When Gideon heard the account of the dream and its interpretation, he bowed in worship … I saw a dream and it made me fearful … Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night vision … I saw at night, and behold, a man was riding on a red horse
Despite what preachers might say, most people don’t resist particular religious beliefs out of pride or enmity toward God. What's there to be proud of? Why would one resist the idea that a benevolent Force governs the universe? Rather, most people resist particular religious beliefs because they're like dreams: they have no clear provenance, they generally don’t make alot of sense, and they aren’t subject to any type of verification.
Dreams and dogma are different in one key way: dreams in themselves don't set us apart from people who don’t share the same dreams. Dogma, on the other hand, does set us apart. It only confuses the issue of belief when people use dreams -- which we otherwise experience to be personal and surreal -- to support dogma which claims to be universal.
Agnostics resist the dream worlds of religion out of respect for what might be out there, for what they can’t really say for sure. Agnostics resist the dreams of others out of respect for what lies beyond their particular personal, family, ethnic, national, continental -- and even human -- perspectives. Out of respect for what that Force, if It exists, might be.
Finally, there's another way in which Christianity might be seen as a dream. One might call it The Christ Dream, emanating from a Nexus of idealism, iconography, and prayer. Maybe believers both create and plug into this Dream, woven from the collective dream of two thousand years, composed of billions of brains training their deepest thoughts and feelings upon the idea of a Man who is also a redemptive God. Creating The Dream. Living The Dream.
Yet if people like Pierre de Chardin are right, and there's some Noosphere or some evolution of human thought toward the Godhead, it hasn't been verified, despite all the scientific terminology surrounding it. Theo-scientists can use our respect for science to make what they want to be true sound true. But that still doesn't make it true, at least not in any verifiable, scientific way. It remains what it always was: a specific group of people wanting something very specific to be truer than everything else.
Next: From Kerry to Crete