When you don't believe in religion or dogma any more, most people think you've become less spiritual – not as committed to fathoming the mystery of God.
Actually, the opposite is true. Jack Haas says it well in his "The Way of Wonder."
Faith, absolute faith, is the acceptance of walking with eyes fully open into the infinite darkness; faith is without expectation, hope, petition, or piety, or it is not faith, it is merely belief. Belief is a characteristic of concept, faith is a characteristic of mystery; for 'belief' is the acceptance of something we do not know, whereas 'faith' is the acceptance that we do not know.
…For just as we can receive the knowable only by 'knowing', so it is that we can receive the Unknowable only by not-knowing.
If God is considered to be the One – infinite, omnipresent, without a second, all-pervading ultimate reality – then what is there to know, and who is there to know it?
Making God into an object redefines the supreme divinity into an entity like us: a thing, force, or person that exists within existence. This anthropomorphizing succeeds in making religion possible, for now God can be reached via a "path," just like the Eiffel Tower can.
Begin here. Do this. End up at God's doorstep.
Neat and tidy. All that's required is to believe in the rightness of the path. God no longer is unknown mystery, for both the way and the endpoint are tidily defined.
Only problem (and it's a big one): religion has converted Godliness into a concept that can be understood by the human mind. Wonder and Mystery have been collapsed into commandments, tenets, beliefs, theologies, and other attempts to force the unknown One into the cage of conceptual structures.
Genuine faith is a rejection of these graven images that humans have formed not out of stone, metal, or wood, but words. Genuine faith is an unreserved opening to what can't be known or described, because God isn't an object.
More from Haas:
When we have given God back his or her rightful being – which is to say, his or her unknowability – then what happens is that we begin to also find out our own proper place in the cosmos; when the event (God) which is so important to our lives becomes impossible to understand, then we also become impossible to understand, after all we were 'created in his own image'. And if that image is beyond our imagination, then we must also be beyond our own imagination.
When God's attributes are gone, our own attributes are gone, and only then is it possible for the two mysteries to blend into One; before this absolute unknowing occurred – when we 'knew' God and ourselves – we saw them as distinct, different entities – for that was the only way to 'know' them (i.e. by separating them), but when we finally 'unknow' God and ourselves, only then, when the lines of division vanish, can the separate entities merge into One.
I used to believe in a path back to God. That's what religions offer: an understandable roadmap to replace the terra incognita of an incomprehensible cosmos.
Eventually it dawned on me that every path necessarily lies on known territory (otherwise no one would know about it). Yet what I'd been drawn to since my childhood was beyond the light: darkness.
Now I'm comfortable with not-knowing anything about God. And in that ignorance…I feel much closer to God.
"Only problem (and it's a big one): religion has converted Godliness into a concept that can be understood by the human mind. Wonder and Mystery have been collapsed into commandments, tenets, beliefs, theologies, and other attempts to force the unknown One into the cage of conceptual structures."
Precisely. And, in taking god out of the heavens and into the pantheon of human ideas, they killed the very soul of what god was supposed to be. This is always how I've seen the Nietzschean idea of "god is dead". You can hear it so well here:
"What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.
How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us---for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto." [copied from here: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/nietzsche-madman.html]
I can't wait for all the Nietzsche haters to now emerge =] They always do.
But I have always felt that the god is dead concept is exact the same as this issue Haas points out. I wonder how Haas would feel about that link?
Posted by: jptxs | September 01, 2008 at 05:42 AM
Along these lines and in this regard, my own sentiments (and more) can be found at:
(be sure to read the guest comments as well)
Posted by: tAo | September 01, 2008 at 10:21 PM
The answer is always predicated in the question. If the question concerning god requires us to commit to knowing something, then god is dead.
Like your previous question regarding meaninglessness, jptxs, look at the question: how is meaningless applied in a situation in which I have invested meaning? Philosophy hates this messy crippling of ideas at the behest of language.
Consider the act of painting: to the field of meaningless gesso, I bring my subject. By accepting the gesso as definitively blank, I create meaning. No sacrifice necessary, just a participation in the way my brain perceives, and then proceeds on.
In the terms of this post, I have faith in the gesture that applies meaning to meaninglessness, and I believe in the meaning, per se.
Posted by: Edward | September 02, 2008 at 08:38 AM
Wonderful article Brian! Thanks for expressing this.
Posted by: tAo | September 02, 2008 at 04:41 PM