Thursday, July 28, 2005

Chico visitor's book promotes a gnostic philosophy of 'Waking Up'


When Chicoan Robert A. "Bob" Mayfield visited me some while ago to present me with a review copy of Timothy Freke's new little book, "Lucid Living" ($12.95 in paperback from Sun Wheel Books), I explained that -- given the content -- it was unlikely this reviewer would have many kind things to say.

Mayfield encouraged me to take the book and read it more carefully. Now that I've done so, I'm more convinced than ever than Freke's little treatise is wrongheaded.

Freke, of Glastonbury, United Kingdom, was scheduled to present his "stand-up philosophy show" at the Chico Women's Club Wednesday night, all part of his U.S. tour promoting his notion of "lucid living" based on his interpretation of Gnostic Christianity. Freke is something of a star of the New Age/Gnostic movement, and, according to one of Freke's earlier books, "Jesus and the Lost Goddess," was an inspiration for Dan Brown's "The Da Vinci Code."

Freke calls himself a "philosophical provocateur." His little book asks readers to consider that the so-called waking world is really a dream and that, at the very core of reality, we are not separate selves but rather a single "awareness" dreaming the dream of life. This dream of life is not a bad thing as such, so long as we realize it is a dream. We are not in the world but, says Freke, the world (our dream) is in us. There is but one awareness dreaming different selves (why that is is unclear).

And that realization leads to love: "Love is what we feel when we realize we are one. ... When I wake up to oneness I feel a limitless love which is so deep and poignant it embraces life in all its ecstasy and agony." Such feeling will mend divisions between people, stop war and lead to a "selfless desire to end all suffering and create universal well-being."

Who could object to a desire to end suffering? But such a noble goal does not prove that one's philosophy is true.

Freke is a modern-day Descartes, a philosopher looking for knowledge that is absolutely certain. "Can you be certain of the common sense understanding of reality taken for granted by most people in our culture? I don't think so." In good Cartesian fashion he proceeds to ask the reader whether one can be sure of memories of the past, or of things others have said, or even of one's own current convictions. For Freke, as for Descartes, knowledge must be grounded in something totally certain, and that's our "experience of this moment." It's "not a belief that can be questioned. It is a self-evident certainty. Your experience of this moment is all you can be absolutely sure of." Thus -- and this is where the book falls apart for me -- the only thing we can base our lives on is "our own immediate experience of living."

That means, for Freke, that anything else (including the teachings of revealed religions) simply has no place in determining how we should live. Freke moves beyond Descartes' "I think, therefore I am" by saying that since the only thing we cannot doubt is awareness, even the notion of a person, an individual "I," must be dismissed. Freke reasons that since only "awareness" is absolutely certain, that's all there really is. This brings him to a form of Gnosticism which has affinities with Eastern thought.

But why should I deny common sense? Scientists could be wrong about gravity, but I ought to think twice before jumping out of a high building. I may not understand the whole meaning of life, but that doesn't mean I'm sleeping. My editor could be a space alien, but I'm betting he's not.

In an earlier book, "The Laughing Jesus," written with co-author Peter Gandy, Freke maintains that the Hebrew Bible is fiction, that Jesus never existed and that Muhammad was a rather disreputable fellow.

Freke is bothered by the particularity of monotheistic religions which, in his view, are decidedly unholy divisive forces; he favors a philosophy of universal oneness.

But how does he know that his awareness is universal? "We appear to be many separate individuals. But actually we are all different characters in the life-dream that is being dreamt by the one life-dreamer. And that's who we really are. ... That's right, isn't it?"

Uh, no.

Dan Barnett teaches philosophy at Butte College. To submit review copies of published books, please send e-mail to Copyright 2005 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.


Anonymous said...

When searching for truth, what is proof? In your own criteria "gathering place for authors, readers, and publishers in far northern California (Chico, Paradise, Redding, and beyond) to read and post reviews of books by local writers and to engage in 'constructive conversation'." your review falls short of meaning. Where is the constructive points? Do you have any contextual comment, or am I to throw out his book because you worry about the nationality of your editor. In your own example of scientific gravity Freke seems to give the nod to personal understanding, so as to lay the foundation of valid belief, because you have seen gravity, not that others have told you. When one argues towards a "revealed religion" there can be no true search for true. Truth itself is outside of the conversation. And in this division the energy is presented for precedence of 'other', or lack of personal connection and responsibility.

Dan Barnett said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm not sure I understand the crux of what you are getting at. But if we limit truth to what we experience, such limitation is arbitrary. In fact, most of the truths we know come from others whom we trust. Sometimes our trust is misplaced, of course, and we need to correct our understanding. That's how life works, I guess.