Re-reading the first chapter of Luther Askeland's "Ways in Mystery" this morning (one of my favorite meaning-of-life books), I liked how Askeland addressed The Seemingly Really Big Question of Existence.
The Way of Unknowing chapter starts off with a Wittgenstein quote:
Not how the world is, is the mystical, but that it is.
Now, I've come to doubt that this that mystery is really as mystically mysterious as it appears to be.
Maybe the classic question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" simply should be rephrased as a statement: "There is something rather than nothing."
Offering support to this way of looking at existence, Askeland says:
Whenever we try to account for the existence of someone or something, we do so by referring to some other being... our explanations for the existence of things involve the prior existence of other things. Since there were other things, however, there clearly must already have been a "world"... But if we are looking for an explanation of the world's existence, we obviously cannot make that assumption.
It is becoming evident that the question "Why does the world exist?" is radically different from the question "Why does A exist?"
The latter question assumes that something that is not A and that existed before A led to A. But what existed before the world? Only "nothingness." The latter question wants to find the something that leads to something else. The former asks how we get from nothing to something... It is looking for something in a place where it is simultaneously assuming there is nothing at all.
This is why I have an intuitive -- hey, why not call it mystical -- understanding that as New Agey as this may sound, the "is'ness" of the cosmos needs to be accepted as our best current knowledge of why existence exists.
And by current, I'm being overly optimistic, since there is good reason to argue that "It just is" always will be the foundational truth about existence.
I've written a lot of blog posts about the mystery of existence. It fascinates me more than any other question about the cosmos. It's most intriguing quality is the lack of ability to answer it, as noted in my "Mystery of existence eludes both religion and science."
God, whether viewed as a personal or impersonal power, fills precisely the same role in theology as do the laws of physics in science.
That is, a given. Something for which no cause is offered. A brute fact, wihout which no other facts are possible.
OK. To me, it's a tie. Both religion and science are clueless about the ultimate question: why is there something rather than nothing? Each offers up an answer that doesn't satisfy.
"God created the universe." Fine. So tell me, what created God?
"The universe was created by a quantum fluctuation." Fine. So tell me, what created the quantum fluctuation?
What is simply is. There is something rather than nothing. I find this eminently satisfying. More than that, actually, much more. It's awesome. Mindblowing. Astoundingly meaningful.
Why? LIke existence itself, there's no why.
Askeland addresses the issue in this way.
It is important to note that if we explain the world's existence by reference to a divine Creator, we are only postponing and complicating the dilemma. For then we can account for why the world exists, but how are we to account for the fact that God does?
...The question here is not whether God exists. Rather, even assuming that God exists, the question here is how this is possible. How do gods "happen"? How are we to explain the fact that there is an eternal God instead of no eternal God? Further, along what lines might we even try to imagine a conceivable answer?
If we again postulate a prior being or higher divinity, we are only postponing the dilemma once more. But if we don't posit another being -- if we posit nothingness as the alternative -- we find ourselves once again hopelessly looking for some kind of explanation or cause within that very nothingnesss.
...Apparently we have raised a question that has no possible, plausible, or even conceivable answer. All the intellect can do is repeat the question, "Why does the world exist?" while recognizing that nothing coherent accompanies the sound and that no toehold seems possible anywhere.
What we and our intellects have run up against is the absolutely unique, irreducible, impenetrable, astonishing fact of being. The central fact of existence, the wholly unintelligible fact that the world is, that, we can now say with Wittgenstein is "the mystical."
In the rest of his book, Askeland elaborates upon the implications of this.
In previous blog posts (type "Askeland" in the Google search box in the right sidebar to find them) I've tried to describe his subtle, sensitive, honest approach to spirituality. One attempt is a 2013 post, "In this moment, be the mystery of existence."
It ends with...
This is one of Askeland's creative insights. Religiosity, mysticism, spirituality -- these are just other ways we use to pretend to ourselves that we've got some sort of grasp on the mystery that can't be grasped. We expand our repertoire of illusory mystery-penetrating mechanisms to include supposedly metaphysical ways.
We still imagine, in other words, that we can name and describe the world, ourselves, and our spiritual lives, only we now add to our repertoire world by adding to it images of a perfect condition contrasting sharply with our present state... we imagine that this perfected condition as one that will someday be ours.
In all this, however, we are just like a chick that, still enclosed in the egg, thinks it knows what the world is like, for we have at that point no more knowledge of other "worlds" than does the chick in the egg or the butterfly still working free of its cocoon.
Here's the thing: there's no outside of the egg, no freedom from the cocoon.
How could there be? How is it possible to get outside of existence, to be free of "God" -- whatever you want to call the mystery of the source?
Give it up, dudes and dudettes. In this moment, says Askeland, is all there ever was and ever shall be. Mystery. The mystery of us is identical with the mystery of the cosmos.
Accept that you will never know either. Because it isn't possible to get outside of either yourself or the cosmos and know it as an object. Best approach, no, the only approach, says Askeland, is to open up a hole of mystery within, or as, yourself.
Then the mystery within and the mystery without are realized as a single mystery. Which doesn't make it less mysterious. Just a much more intimate mystery.
Which brings me to closing time. And a final sip of coffee. Now.