Monday, December 26, 2016
Through a Glass Darkly
To my complete astonishment, my Christmas posting has been viewed by thousands of readers and generated hundreds of questions and responses--a few predictably nasty or hostile. (Suspiciousness and negativity are hard-wired into some human hearts as responses to anything strange or unfamiliar, so those kinds of reactions don't upset me. I understand and make allowance for them and always try to give back love even in the face of them.) But since I simply have not had the time to answer most of the questioners, I decided to post a particular answer that I wrote to a reader I've never met or heard from before, since it covers a number of areas I have been asked about (or, as I say, occasionally attacked on the basis of). I am making this posting in early January, but for convenience of reference placing it in the blog sequence immediately after the posting it refers to. Happy New Year to one and all! -- R.C.
I just read your article on how atheists are trend followers and how people don't believe in God these days. I have a simple question: can people still be spiritual without believing in God?
The Christmas posting received thousands and thousands of views and elicited hundreds of questions. The answer is yes, absolutely. I wrote someone else who wrote me asking about why, if what I said was true, there were so many different religions with different beliefs and different forms of God, and told him that even the word "God" in my post was just a convenience, an abbreviation, a shorthand, and that every religion could give what I am calling God a different name and how non-religious individuals can call him, her, it, that, or them something else entirely—"the life force," "the energy of the universe," “the love behind all love," "the truth about reality”—or no name at all. The artist-friend who wrote me used the word “God,” but was hearing God's laugh in the reflections of leaves and colors in flickering moving water. That’s not some old guy with a long white beard in heaven for sure! And I also told the person who wrote me that religion, church, the beliefs of the earth's religions were themselves similarly just forms of shorthand; they are human inventions, human translations, human approximations to these truths, and as good as religious systems may be at times (and much of what Jesus says in the New Testament, much of what Muhammad says in the Koran, much of what Buddha says in his sermons is very very wonderful, and important, and true!), they were also very flawed, fallible, and incomplete at other points. Every religion misunderstands or simplifies or distorts some things; every religion leaves out truths that other religions understand. And all religions leave out truths that no religions understand. As I say in the other post, many of them will be discovered in the future. Truths about the soul, truths about our relationship with God, truths about the meaning of our lives, truths about the role of life in the universe. Though science and religion are thought of as opposites today, that is just a limitation of our current understandings, largely due to the primitivism of our science. The split will be healed and the science of the future will reveal things that are not dreamt of in our current philosophies. Today we see through a glass darkly. Our knowledge today, sincere as it may be, is only at its very baby-step beginning. There is no religion, no church, no set of religious texts, no set of holy doctrines, that hasn't slightly (or at points greatly) warped the truth, and that doesn’t at points misunderstand and misinterpret small or large ultimate truths. That's not a slam on religion; it's just an acknowledgement of the imperfection of man and all that man has created, even the very good and great men and women who created the earth’s religions, and all that man has been able to understand up to now. It’s just an acknowledgement of the humanity of humankind, and of the partial (lesser or greater) fallaciousness of everything we currently say, think, feel, and do on this planet, even with the best of intentions--everything. Mankind hasn't been around that long. We're just beginners, toddlers just starting out down the road of truth--though the artists and a few of the mystics and visionaries have dug a little deeper, seen down the path a little further than most of the rest of us. But, even at best, most of the rest of what we call knowledge is just dreams and guesses, glimpses in the dark, children's games of blind-man's bluff and where is the penny. Nothing we see, say, or do right now is perfect or complete. It's all an approximation. It's all unfinished. (Isn't this wonderful? It means there is still work to do, discoveries to be made, a further path to be gone down.) That is the future I was talking about in the Christmas posting, the path we (or at least most people on this planet) have yet to go down. We don't realize (to pun on the word, since both senses are equally important) our God or Gods or spirits or souls (call them or it what you want), and we falsely, distortingly try to lock our Gods up in bricks and mortar, to formulate their flowing, surging, healing energy in doctrines and ideas and belief systems that do not live up to their actual grandeur. My post was only an appeal that we not hobble ourselves with fashionable, limiting, crippling beliefs and ideas (and the beliefs and ideas connected with scientism, materialism, and atheism are among the most limiting, most self-crippling, most mind-imprisoning), but that we actually work to “realize”—to see, feel, understand, and live above all—the greatness, the passion, the love, the truth that is everywhere inside and around us. That means that what I am calling the future can be right now if we allow it, if we allow ourselves to move into it, if we open our eyes, ears, senses, emotions, minds to it. We don't have to wait for the physicists and cosmologists to make their discoveries. We can make them ourselves. I mean really truly see, touch, feel, and know them. The truth is all around us, here and now. Let those who have eyes see. And we sure better not wait for heaven and hereafter. To wait till we die to be transformed is too late. Transformation, ecstasy, love, care, kindness are now or never. They are here or nowhere. Our soul is full and ready to be fuller, if only we allow it and don't wall ourselves off from the power that does it. Now for some, the way of institutionalized religion and church God will be the only or even the best path there; but for others there will be a greater, more demanding, more rewarding, uncharted path to a greater, more demanding, more revealing truth. That second path was the one I was writing about. It is available to everyone on the planet. But it does not exclude other paths, and other names for the journey and the destination. Laugh with God; laugh the laugh of celebration, praise, wisdom, and prayer.
Posted by Ray Carney raycarney1(at)gmaildotcom tenured Prof. (Film and American Studies) at 3:57 PM