Odd Gods, God’s Odds

Odd Gods, God’s Odds

ABC News’ Nightline recently sponsored a Faceoff debate with Deepak Chopra & Jean Houston on one side and Sam Harris & Michael Shermer on the other. The topic: Does God have a future? This is a bit like debating whether Bugs Bunny will continue to be fond of carrots. It’s not a meaningless question, but perhaps it’s one best left to future rabbit scholars who’ll be around to observe the matter first hand. Still, if God’s advocates these days are the likes of Deepak Chopra and Jean Houston, then I have to feel a little sorry for the Perfect One.

Deepak Chopra is a brother, so it was somewhat painful to watch the man’s passionate incoherence. He spoke in aggrieved fragments, choppy phrases circling the wagons of his non-argument. Chopra-bhai had it in for Shermer, which is understandable, since Shermer has made it a point to ridicule him as Dr. Woo-Woo. Sample exchange:

Chopra: For people like Michael– not you so much [Sam Harris]– for people like Michael, to take all of the inner experience, all of the rich inner experience and try to codify it in a graph with data is absurd.

Shermer: As opposed to what? Just calling it fuzzy words? How does that help us understand it?

Chopra: That’s such an OUT, Michael. That’s such an out.

Shermer: And–

Chopra: You use the word ‘fuzzy’. Use the word ‘woo-woo’ and you’re out of the argument.

Indeed. What was the argument again?

But it doesn’t really matter. The debate wasn’t a debate because the two sides were using words very differently. Harris & Shermer were using reason, that is, using language with its usual adult conventions of having to make sense. The other side seem to use words to evoke cosmic feeling. Dr. Houston writes things like: “That is you — the human being that is the microcosm or, if you will, the fractal of the Infinite self. The human Selfing game may be what Infinity does for fun.” It seems to me that such speech-acts have a certain ritualistic role. It’s not too far removed– in emotional affect anyway– from shamanic chants, motherese, and the nonsense rhymes of children.

Jean Houston seemed more aware than Chopra-bhai that the place and time weren’t suited for chanting. Or perhaps it was simply that she wasn’t allowed to speak. Every now and then she’d raise her hand to indicate she wanted to speak, but her attempts were ignored by the three men. Pretty brutal.

It’s easy to make fun of Chopra-bhai and Dr. Houston. But they make life more interesting, not less. So a little sympathy may not be out of order. We need them around, if only to remind us there’s no curing the imagination. Perhaps they truly believe the woo-woo they claim to believe. And what’s the harm? At best, it’s only the stuff of foma, wampeters and granfalloons. At worst, it only further delays a serious study of Bugs Bunny and his inexplicable passion for carrots.



Featured image is due to Hyung Koo Lee’s Bugs Bunny from his Animatus Series. N.B. May 26, 2014: The original site seems defunct.

  • Vandana Singh

    Ahoy, Anil,

    Great to see some posts from you! I happen to be inordinately fond of Bugs Bunny, to the point where I've adopted some of his vocabulary. Seems like the debate you referenced needs a translator.

    I agree with the notion of sympathy for those who seem woolly headed and wacko. Woolly headedness might actually have meaning within it, however cleverly concealed. But the main point of it is that it makes the world more interesting and opens up the imagination.

  • anilMenon

    Hi Vandana. These days, I've settled on being a pluralist, so like a quantum particle I'm free to be on both sides of an opinion. 🙂

    Regarding the debate: Harris & Shermer should have been faced with real religious philosophers, like Abdulkarim Soroush or John Hick. The debate would have been far more valuable.