The worst accommodationism EVER: Nancy Abrams says that God is naturalism (sort of)

April 6, 2015 • 2:41 pm

All the good that Salon has done by publishing the eloquent antitheist essays by Jeffrey Tayler has been wiped away for good by a new essay on the site, “You’re praying to the wrong God: What organized religion gets wrong about prayer.”  It’s by Nancy Abrams, and is an excerpt from her new book A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet.

Judging from this excerpt and the Amazon description, Abrams does for religion what compatibilists do for free will: she tells us that there is no anthropomorphic God who cares for each of us, but that’s okay, for she redefines God to give us The Only Kind of God Worth Wanting!

That God is the Universe, or so you might discern from painfully clawing your way through her tortured prose. But it’s more than just Einstein’s recasting of God as the wonders and regularities of the Universe. Read a few excerpts and then tell me what you think she’s trying to say. (I’m not sure myself.)

This is her first paragraph, and I’ll be damned if I know what she’s talking about:

The power of praying comes from daring to enter that mysterious place between the emerging God and us. But it’s not an empty space—it’s our own selves on progressively larger size scales, where we are participating in multiple emerging phenomena and creating emergent identities. As the ancient Egyptian world blended outward into the spiritual world, so does ours. And the higher our consciousness goes along the Uroboros of Human Identity, the more it blends into the emerging phenomenon of God. In tuning our ordinary consciousness in to those higher levels that we may have scarcely ever visited before, we approach God.

Thus we simply change our idea of God from a supernatural being to whatever fulfills our “God Capacity”:

It’s time to crack open the whole idea of talking to God. If we are in a universe now known to span more than sixty orders of magnitude, and God is emerging from the infinite interactions of human aspirations, we have to look at everything anew. We’ve already begun to do this intellectually, but can we do it emotionally? How can we step outside images of God that are many centuries deep and realize that those are only images and not reality?

 It turns out all humans have a tool that will let us do this. The perfect name for it was suggested by the psychoanalyst Carl Jung. In an interview filmed in the early 1950s Jung was asked bluntly, “Do you believe God exists?” Earlier Jung had written that all people need ideas and convictions that can give meaning to their lives and help them find their “place in the universe” (his phrase). He had written that we have the capacity to satisfy this need symbolically with a god image. He answered the interviewer by saying, “What I know is that all humans have a ‘god-capacity.’” That’s the tool. Our god-capacity.

And, apparently, we can force ourselves to believe that the Universe itself fills that “god-capacity”, which of course isn’t traditional religion at all, but to Abrams might be a good replacement (my emphasis):

There is a God that’s closer to every one of us than the air we breathe and more powerful than the zeitgeist in which our lives are planted. If we could learn from the evangelicals how to feel as though we’re really in touch with the emerging God in the ways we actually are, we could experience the joy and awe of participation in the universe and see the possibility of prayer as a cosmic blessing.

We have learned from the evangelicals in [Tanya] Luhrmann’s study that if we are motivated enough, it’s possible to train our minds to experience whatever we believe is real. What if we directed toward the real universe and the emerging God even a fraction of the effort that millions of religious people make every day to experience the presence of their image of God?

After redefining the Universe as God, she then redefines “prayer” as “contemplating the Universe” (this woman would have made a wonderful free-will compatibilist!):

It’s often said that prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening for the answer. That can be true, of course, but it’s not the only way. If we meditate on how the universe works as if we actually believed it, that would be a prayer to reality, and reality is the parent of God and everything else. This kind of prayer is a way of harmonizing oneself with the reality that can host an emerging God. We no longer live in an intuitive universe, but most of our words still refer to earthly experiences and, unless we unchain them as metaphors, these metaphors mislead us to think that they accurately reflect reality.

If we want to know how to talk to God, or how God might talk to us, we need to train our minds to live in the same universe as God. Doing so can be prayer.

. . . We’re truly participating in our universe when we come to feel in our bones that we are part of the story, thoroughly integrated into the big picture. God is emerging from us and bound into us, we know where we stand in the cosmos, and we know what we are.

. . . The galaxy is merely our local geography. There is a whole universe to re-envision, large and small, outside and inside ourselves. Expanding our consciousness to the spiritual realms of the universe is praying.

Seriously, can any thinking person take this stuff seriously? Her solution to the delusions of religion is to substitute the idea that God is really just science and naturalism, but is also more-than-just-naturalism in a way that isn’t quite clear. Will believers buy it? I doubt it? Will atheists buy it? Only if they’ve lost too many neurons.

Sure, you can harmonize religion with science if you redefine religion as science, and prayer as simply awe before the Universe. But then why use the word “God” at all, which, as Abrams knows, is loaded with emotional and historical resonance? You can also decide that “cat” is just another word for “d*g,” and then argue that Hili is a d*g, but who, given the historical use of those terms, would accept that usage? Only someone who desperatelyy wants a d*g but has only a cat.

h/t: Barry

96 thoughts on “The worst accommodationism EVER: Nancy Abrams says that God is naturalism (sort of)

    1. Haha, exactly my thought! Some people think that if you use enough words you can solve any problem.

      1. Some people think that if they use enough of the right kind of words it means they must have said something perceptive, insightful and intelligent.

        Abrams’ writing here is a good example of the kind of writing that happens when the author wants to be recognized for saying something, but doesn’t actually have anything to say.

  1. Ah. Hidden deep in bones of Mother Universe, God sings to us all through energy borne of resonant vibrations of bound matter.

    Her story arrived to her from science. If she’s not able to convince herself that her story could be different, like religious stories, Abrams needs to imagine what she would have written five hundred years ago. And then, try, inconceivably, to imagine what she would write in five hundred years.

    I predict a very step decline in any yearning to label the universe as a property of or the thing itself she calls God.

  2. I usually like critiquing apologetics (at least a little), but this time, I got nuthin’ – this is some of the worst word salad I’ve seen in a while.

    I’d like to think this was Alan Sokal writing under a pen name, performing another hoax. I would be wrong, but I’d like to think that.

    1. When I was reading it I was thinking a Sokalian hoax as well. But then my brain stopped thinking.

    2. It must all have to do with what you bring to it. It’s just like reading a horror-scope – Even if you read the wrong sign, it still works. All you need is a little hope and faith.
      Look at a selection of words from just the first paragraph. Aren’t they wonderful? Sprinkle these into any first paragraph and you’ve hooked that same audience.

      higher levels

      I think I missed an emerging.

  3. I think she stole Deepak’s word salad Maxine and fed it different inputs.

    Hey kids, come sit around the campfire with Universe and the God-capacity driven emerging god and sing with us – Kumbaya and Hakuna Matata*.

    *Lion King

  4. As the ancient Egyptian world blended outward into the spiritual world, so does ours. And the higher our consciousness goes along the Uroboros of Human Identity, the more it blends into the emerging phenomenon of God. In tuning our ordinary consciousness in to those higher levels that we may have scarcely ever visited before, we approach God.

    For some reason, this reminded me of: “My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball. But tonight I say, we must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom!”

    1. This is perfect. Next time someone on my Facebook feed posts anything approximating this level of nonsensical accommodationism, I will treat them to this clip and see if that gets their vote.

  5. This can’t be serious. Surely it’s a hoax? this text reminds me of the paper that Maarten Boudry once wrote for a theology conference.

      1. It smells like an easy way to make money, in much the same way televangelism was an easy gig for preachers in the 1980’s.

  6. Actually entertaining in a thoroughly pomo, hilarious, and incomprehensible way. But what does this do? What is the utility? Why do people need this?!

    It mystifies me that there are people who read the original article and think “yes, good stuff Nancy*.”

    *Whom I convinced is an alien. Or, I’m the alien.

  7. Queue Jon Lovitz.
    Yeah, g*d isn’t the g*d you think he is, he’s the universe, yeah, that’s the ticket.

  8. Professor, I’ve seen you wielding accusations of bad writing where I disagreed, but this is indeed the finest balderdash I’ve seen since reading Fashinable Nonsense.

    I think “As the ancient Egyptian world blended outward into the spiritual world, so does ours.” perhaps could mean something like: “The ancient Egyptians strongly believed in the supernatural, and so do we.”

    As for the rest, no idea. “The Uroboros of Human Identity” would make for a great internet pseudonym, though.

    1. I think “As the ancient Egyptian world blended outward into the spiritual world, so does ours.” perhaps could mean something like: “The ancient Egyptians strongly believed in the supernatural, and so do we.”

      My cynical side takes it to mean: “like them, I plan on pulling your brains out through your nose and blending them…just a little less literally.”

    2. Ye Olde Egyptians believed that the kingdom of the dead was in the west, because that’s where the sun ‘died’. So the real world was blended in the mystical world: if you go west far enough, you would end up in the kingdom of the dead. Florida.

      1. Hey! We may be dying, but not dead yet!

        (Go further west – Alabama, Missisippi to find many brain dead)

        1. Sorry for that. I actually doubted between Florida and downtown L.A. when I wrote that sentence. I went to L.A. when I was sixteen. Never met a more boring town. San Francisco was much better. My parents, brother and I were on pier 39 on the 4th of july 2007. Amazing fireworks I tell you.

          Judging from your name, aren’t you from New England?

            1. Very nice! I would do the same if I had the money for it. The European equivalent of Florida would be southern France or Spain, which are ironically on the same latitude as New England.

              Hope you don’t have a hard time being an atheist in southern Florida.

  9. Oh the English poet William Blake did this kind of thing a million times better.

    God is our capacity for imagination.

    Yeah it’s still blather but at least with Blake you got all that great poetry.

    To open the Eternal Worlds, to open the immortal Eyes
    Of Man inwards into the Worlds of Thought: into Eternity
    Ever expanding in the Bosom of God, the Human Imagination.
    ~ William Blake, from Jerusalem: The Emanation of The Giant Albion (1804).

    1. I agree! The poets, artists, and composers who were inspired by this kind of make-believe (in all its varieties) at least left us with beautiful and REAL artifacts.

  10. “You’re praying to the wrong god” is exactly what every religious person has always said to every other religious person whose pantheon differs.

    So Abrams picks some other random incoherent idolistic construct to pray to than everybody else…and now we’ve got n + 1 worng gods being prayed to….


    1. Well, there is baseball, basketball, hockey, football, futbol…

      That makes n + m worng gods.

  11. She is just repackaging 60’s New Age, psychobabble, equivocation and just plain nonsense as part of the resurgent trend of people creating their own a la carte religious syncretism in order to maintain their relevancy in an impersonal universe.

    Empty words void of meaning in reality.

  12. One thing’s for sure… the word “emergent” in this person’s hands has become a powerful emetic. An emetic that emerges from damp nether-regions eventuating salads made of words, that are emergent.

    1. I know that the word ‘Uroboros’ is forever ruined for me. Now I can never use it if I ever wanted to, and I will cringe a little whenever I read it.

  13. Abrams is not discussing religion, she is doing religion, as anyone who concatenates deepities together is. It is a theological trick that mimicks glossolalia and evokes the same warm feelings in believers. (I think it has been measured.)

  14. Total gibberish from start to finish. She can’t even get her half-baked metaphors right. ‘The higher our consciousness goes along the Uroboros of human identity’ indeed! Is she unaware that the ouroboros was the snake depicted devouring its own tail?

    Clearly her Uroboros has got its head stuffed firmly up its own arsehole.

    And she can’t even spell ‘ouroboros’ correctly anyway.

  15. This is just pure Depakese: we know what all the words mean but when put together haven’t a clue what she means. Neither does she. If I wrote this in high school Miss Haft would have told me to go a little lighter on the bong.

  16. “Supernatural binkie?!” That is hilarious.

    Robert M. Price addresses this kind of mumbo jumbo in one of his “Zarathustra Speaks” essays…

    “In the same vein, some people like to say that “spirit” is another word for “energy.” Fine, but then it becomes perfectly clear that “spirit” in natural, not supernatural. You’re making it tantamount to electricity or nuclear power.

    So what’s left on the other side? An abstraction that is timeless, located nowhere in particular, above acting, beyond linear thought, since “he” is perfect with nothing only potentially done and left to do, already knowing everything and not needing to pursue a sequence of thoughts. Pure abstraction. What’s the difference between that and nothing?”

    1. But when they do that they also mean that energy is somehow a stuff, not a property – and that’s pseudoscientific or at least sloppy. (Hint: this has been provably wrong since Maxwell, who introduced – as far as I can tell – dimensional analysis – for this very point.)

  17. ” Expanding our consciousness to the spiritual realms of the universe is praying”

    Prayer is just another way of talking to yourself out loud without being carted away.
    Ms Abrams was just trying to save herself from this embarrassment, hence all this, what I would call, a new order of spiritual meaningless babble.

    1. “Prayer is just another way of talking to yourself out loud without being carted away.”

      Bluetooth has made distinguishing the sane from the insane much harder.

      1. I must have mis-parsed your post. It would seem to imply that sane people wander aimlessly whilst yammering at the top of their lungs into pieces of plastic stuck in their ears.


  18. Sorry, I could not finish it. My brain was beginning to wander, searching desperately to find something — anything — on which to concentrate. Reading that drivel for just a couple minutes is like spending an hour in an isolation chamber. I crave grounding in reality right now.

  19. I had to look up Uroboros, because I thought it was a word I didn’t know and it made no sense if it was supposed to be ouroboros.

    I couldn’t read the whole article. The writing was too bad and it was a load of rubbish anyway.

    I’d hate to have to find my way around her mind, because she’s got rather a lot mixed up.

    And to address her directly:
    FFS woman! We already have words for using your ‘god-capacity’ it’s called ‘critical thinking’ and it’s about time you learned how to do it.

    Just abandon the idea of a god, and it makes the thinking much clearer and easier to do, because you’re not trying to reconcile bits that won’t fit.

    We already know that meditation, including of the mindfulness variety (which is what your lying on your back thing is), has value for some people. Let’s not start getting it mixed up with prayer, which involves false hope and at least one imaginary deity.

    1. I agree wholeheartedly that the confused mixture of prayer and meditation is utterly off the mark–I made a similar point below before I spotted your great comments (#40).

  20. Sing with me, accompanied by Erin Hill on a harp:
    “Science is looking out,
    Religion is looking in…
    Look out, science!
    Look out! Look out! Look out!”

    Too soon?

  21. “A God That Could Be Real”

    This is hilarious; all other gods are fake, but this Uroborus I have dreamt up could be real, just possibly. How is this going to please the religious?

    There are no gods, I must have a god, I will call reality “God” and it will be alright. Silly.

  22. The scary part is that some publisher thinks there’s definitely an audience for this dreck, and he might be right.

  23. What’s with all this emerging/emergent stuff? I think someone could have a Freudian heyday with that.

  24. Definitely a “New-Age” Woo-meister of the first order! “The more strongly you believe in something, the more real it is!”

  25. Pantheism, I think. If contemplating Life, the Universe, and Everything constitutes praying then yeah, I could do religion. 😉

  26. When I read that first paragraph one word came to mind, an old psychiatric term, “projection”. God is is nothing more then us projected large into all we see. I agree with one of the earlier commentators that Blake did a much better poetic job which much fewer words.

  27. I have been looking forward to Jerry’s comments on Abrams’ “groundbreaking” new conception of God.

    Three comments:

    1. The idea that “prayer is talking to God and meditation is listening for the answer” is wildly offensive to anyone who (like me) recognizes that meditation can actually be a highly effective tool. Meditation can be done with absolutely NO reference to any god or spiritual essence. Meditation is simply experiencing sensations and thoughts AS THEY ARISE, and acknowledging them WITHOUT JUDGMENT. Meditation in this sense is decidedly NOT a matter of waiting for God (or the universe, or the mind) to give an “answer”. It is decidedly NOT the counterpart of “prayer”.

    2. Based on another article/excerpt I found, I gather that Abrams’ “BIG IDEA” is that humans have aspirations, and that the sum-totality of human “aspirations” has somehow created a new, emergent entity–which she calls God. She draws a curious analogy with the economy (ALL CAPS=italics in original; I’m no good with html): “Almost everything we humans do COLLECTIVELY spawns an emergent phenomenon—so, for example, people trading things has led to the global economy, an emergent phenomenon so complicated and unpredictable that not only does no one know the rules; the professionals don’t even agree on what the rules should be about. . . . [Similarly,] something new HAS to have emerged from the staggering complexity of all humanity’s aspirations, interacting. What is that Something?—that emergent phenomenon both fed by and feeding the aspirations of every human being? It didn’t exist before humans evolved, but it’s here now, and every one of us is directly connected to it simply by virtue of being human and having aspirations.”

    For Abrams, that which emerges from human aspirations IS “God”. How or why one would “pray” to the sum-total of human aspirations is beyond me. And if she does want to draw the analogy to the economy, wouldn’t it make more sense to say that what has emerged from the totality of human aspirations is actually human art, history, and culture?

    3. This whole concept also reminds me of John Haught’s “levels” of understanding (the “lower” levels include the sciences, but the “highest” level is God). As Jerry has often pointed out, you can add all the layers you want to explain any phenomenon, but if you don’t have a shred of evidence that these higher levels are REAL in any way, then they have absolutely no meaningful explanatory value.

    1. Yes. Not only is God a humanist, but God is supposed to be humanism. But let’s call it “God.”

      I can interpret her essay as supporting atheism OR theism, depending on what “level of understanding” I choose.

  28. The way I interpreted this is as stealth naturalism trying to get a decent hearing by treacherously throwing atheists under the bus. The real message is not that the believer is praying to the wrong god; it’s that new atheists are criticizing the wrong God.

    And then she proceeds to make the same damn points every new atheist has made about the “magic of reality” while pretending that this is what new atheists have missed. It’s not a clever tactic if it’s old, trite, and wrong.

    And it’s not an attempt at harmonizing disputes if it still feeds on the prejudice against reason and clarity. “Without God there is no meaning — because God is a metaphor for meaning!” Abrams is thus extending a universal peace branch after simultaneously using it to gut religion AND bash atheism. With friends like this, atheists and theists don’t need enemies.

    I feel about this the same way I felt about the optimistic Michael Dowd and his Thank God for Evolution campaign of religious humanism. The deliberate use of fuzzy spiritual terminology isn’t going to seduce the religious into becoming naturalists; it’s only going to be employed towards supporting supernaturalism. Remember, spirituality is grounded in confusion. If they CAN misunderstand you, they WILL misunderstand you.

    1. In agreement with both you and Shea B above. She’s confusing the issue by trying to bring in a God concept that simply doesn’t need to be there. And, as you say, it is theists who will use what she says to support their position.

    2. It’s amazing the piles of crap that can be written that are refuted with one simple sentence: “New Atheists ask for evidence for the God you propose.” And there’s overwhelming evidence that the God refuted in the popular books is the God billions of people the world over believe in.

      1. Unfortunately, I think that simple sentence needs to be prefaced by an earlier one: “New Atheists ask for a definition of the God you propose.”

        Upon which — behold the amazing piles of crap falling down from above!

        1. Yes, that’s the truly amazing part, innit?

          It especially demonstrates why I have so little patience for the dogmatic agnostics who insist not merely that they don’t know if there are any gods, but that nobody else can even in principle rule out the possibility that there might be gods. And, yet…every entity anybody’s ever actually bother to both define and attach the “god” label to…is trivially demonstrated nonexistent. The Abrahamic gods by the persistent lack of voices booming from the sky; the theological gods by the continued existence of evil and / or sheer their sheer incoherence; the Hindu gods by their utter absurdity; the New Age gods by their radical incompatibility with well-known physics; and so on.

          The only thing any of the gods have in common…is that they’re characters in a certain type of fiction, characters that gain authority by doing that which is impossible outside of fiction and which, in turn, lend their authority to their authors. Which is why I define the gods thusly…and why I’m never popular with theists of any variety….


  29. If we are in a universe now known to span more than sixty orders of magnitude

    Given the right units, I span one hundred orders of magnitude. Take that, universe!

  30. The words are all recognizable, but woven into content-fee “concepts.” Some writers engage in elegant variation for comic effect or to avoid triteness. Abrams does it to pernicious effect, to obscure.

  31. Well, “God is the universe” or “God is everything” is maybe the only coherent definition of God. Spinoza and Einstein held a similar pantheistic view.

      1. On a more serious note, “worshiping” a materialistic (philosophical meaning) God is, i.m.h.o. relatively harmless.

        Reality can be a little rough.

        Fooling (not fiddling with) yourself for a warm feeling inside, without any deeper purpose or goal, I personally I have no problems with that.

  32. Back just after the earth cooled, the nuns in my school were hot for diagramming sentences. This was an effort that ranks with Quantum Physics. but I got pretty good at it. I tried to diagram some of her sentence sin your example and Nancy falls well short short to the Sister Columbine. IN fact I still have some scares from trying some of the exact syntactical gymnastics …

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