I was mildly surprised at how strongly I reacted to a comment by “A friend” made on my “Turn on, tune in, or drop out?” post. If you read my response (in the form of another comment), you’ll note a decided tone of what I like to call irony, but others could reasonably term sarcasm.
Pondering my reaction, here’s how I explain it:
If you say to me, “When it comes to God, I don’t know,” we’re comrades in unknowing. Grab a chair and belly up with me to the clueless bar.
If you say to me, “When it comes to God, I believe…,” we can have an interesting conversation. I probably won’t agree with you, but I enjoy learning about other people beliefs, or lack thereof, in a higher power.
If you say to me, “When it comes to God, I know…,” we are going to have a really interesting conversation. For once you say “know” rather than “believe,” my skeptical radar sets off a Dogma alert! Dogma alert! siren inside my psyche.
I don’t expect reasons for beliefs. They’re your business. Just like sex, whatever turns you on. Go for it. But also just like sex, beliefs need to remain personal if they are to be unquestioned.
As soon as you say, “I believe _____, and you should too,” there’s going to be a stiffening of my argumentative spine. I’m pleased to be given advice by someone who is more knowledgeable about something than I am. However, that something needs to be objectively real, not imaginary.
And beliefs aren’t real, even though lots of religious people seem to think that they are.
Going further, some people actually claim that they know the nature of God or ultimate reality. Now, this requires some serious questioning. A claim like that, why, it’s amazing. I mean, in the entire span of recorded history there hasn’t been a single clearly evident, unquestionable, plain-as-day revelation about God or the divine.
So if you tell me that you know for a fact that God exists, or that God is such and such, or that God is realized in this particular fashion, then I’m going to be super-duper interested in how you’re able to back up that astounding assertion.
I want you to lay your cards on the table. Face up. All of them. Show me your four aces. And let me know in detail, exactly, precisely, how you were able to come up with that winning hand.
Of course, I know that this won’t be possible. If you’re just bluffing, and don’t really know about God, then you’ll be empty-handed. But even if by some miracle you truly are God’s bosom buddy, you still won’t be able to lay any material proof on the table.
I’m pretty confident about that, because nobody else ever has been able to do so, and I’m willing to bet that this run of “busts” will continue.
So, please, please, please. Pretty please with blind faith crumbs on top. If you write or talk to me and go beyond “I believe…” when speaking about God, bring your best stuff. Show me the money, as the saying goes. The proof.
I’ve shared this quotation before, but it’s worth sharing again. To my mind, classics scholar A.H. Armstrong hits just the right tone.
When claims to possess an exclusive revelation of God or to speak his word are made by human beings (and it is always human beings who make them), they must be examined particularly fiercely and hypercritically for the honor of God, to avoid the blasphemy and sacrilege of deifying a human opinion.
Or, to put it less ferociously, the Hellenic (and, as it seems to me, still proper) answer to “Thus saith the Lord” is “Does he?,” asked in a distinctly skeptical tone, followed by a courteous but drastic “testing to destruction” of the claims and credentials of the person or person making this enormous statement.
To make matters more complex, there seems to be some kind of spiritual contract against showing supernatural evidence of God, even hypothetically speaking.
Posted by: ben | August 03, 2006 at 07:02 AM
Yes, Ben. Exactly. That's one of the points I was trying to make (not as clearly as you did).
If there is something beyond the physical, is it possible to bring evidence of it back into the physical?
Logic argues "No." So does the evidence of recorded history.
Thus we're left with mystery. Uncertainty. Not-knowing.
If you know, you can't share your knowing with anyone else. If you don't know, you can't rely on someone else's knowing.
For me, all this points to churchlessness. For billions of others, it points to a substitute "knowing" through holy books, holy people, holy places, and so on.
I'd rather have nothing, and seek the real thing, than be content with a false substitute.
Still, I understand the appeal of religion, because it's damn tough (and humbling) to accept the truth that God is a mystery and you're clueless about what, if anything, lies beyond the physical universe.
Posted by: Brian | August 03, 2006 at 09:37 AM
Well, religion *is* the opiate of the masses......at least until television.
I find it interesting that if someone had (or I suppose has) any "uncanny ability" the church would immediately say that that the person was a witch and, by the very notion, an instrument of the devil. The very notion referring to the church, of course, not for people who understand that Wicca is a legitimate religion in itself. Whatever "legitimate religion" means.
Posted by: Eric | August 03, 2006 at 01:37 PM
Here's the puzzle: you "know" that no one can prove what they know about God, yet the mere suggestion that they do, in fact, "know" drives you crazy.
When my children go on at length about the activities of the imaginary characters made of light that they observe everyday, I don't go tilt, and demand that they prove the existence of this or that idol. I smile and indulge them, and even try to make up my own experiences with the unseen, because it is FUN.
I am not particularly invested in their belief, even when they literally fight over ascendencies of their favorite cartoon.
I am not invested in whether or not Father Raj O'Guru knows God's cell phone number. Or suffers each day because he misplaced it. I guess I regard the so called "objectively real" in the way you regard the evanescent "belief": It makes for great conversation, but afterall, there's no proof.
Posted by: Edward | August 04, 2006 at 04:04 AM
"No one will deny or dispute the power of the Almighty to make such a
communication if he pleases. But admitting, for the sake of a case, that
something has been revealed to a certain person, and not revealed to any other
person, it is revelation to that person only. When he tells it to a second
person, a second to a third, a third to a fourth, and so on, it ceases to be a
revelation to all those persons. It is revelation to the first person only, and
hearsay to every other, and, consequently, they are not obliged to believe it.
It is a contradiction in terms and ideas to call anything a revelation that
comes to us at second hand, either verbally or in writing. Revelation is
necessarily limited to the first communication. After this, it is only an
account of something which that person says was a revelation made to him; and
though he may find himself obliged to believe it, it cannot be incumbent on me
to believe it in the same manner, for it was not a revelation made to me, and I
have only his word for it that it was made to him."--Thomas Paine
Posted by: Todd Chambers | August 07, 2006 at 10:16 AM