Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Thinking Religion To Death

"God is beyond the ability of human reasoning to define, too vast to be labelled as a being, and only knowable as Being."

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Very interesting textual interview here..

Oh, so many books to read. The fiction list includes the second book of Stieg Larssen's Millennium trilogy; Margaret Atwood's Year Of The Flood; Galore, by Michael Crumney; the aforementioned Under The Dome, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.

Add one more: Karen Armstrong's The Case For God.

Call me a seeker. I believe, actually, that most of us's just that we seek in different ways, and thus find (what appear to be) different things. For many years, I have been uncomfortable with people who claim to have All The Answers, be they fundycostal types or militant atheists of the Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris school.
I'm also uncomfortable with organized religion. Years of reflection have convinced me that the problem with organized religion is that it's organized. I often state that the superiority complexes seemingly inherent in religions the world over are what turn me off, and they do, but superiority complexes are a human failing, just as obvious in political dogma, and are not, strictly speaking, religion's fault. No--for me, what niggles at my brain is this "organized" business.
Religion is, at its heart, a communing with the numinous. All the externals--the rituals, the doctrines, the hierarchies--are incidental almost to the point of irrelevance (and more than occasional irreverence as well). Yet the human inclination to keep things organized, classified, categorized and specified means the externals assume an importance completely out of proportion to their value.

Now don't get me wrong. Ritual can play a part, an important part, in divine communion. But too many get caught up in the rituals as if they ARE divine communion, and refuse to understand their mistake...even going so far as to condemn others for making the same mistake in a different way. In my Christian years, I was often told "Christianity isn't a religion, it's a relationship." At root, all religion is just that.

Karen Armstrong does not seem to be making a case for the existence of God here, but examining the belief in God over the centuries. From what I can tell, it looks very much as if she's arguing that "God" is bigger than what's come to be the standard definition. I've often thought that myself. Why does Christianity insist on restricting God to one gender and one role? In my own writings about God, I often mixmaster up the pronouns, sometimes using He, sometimes She, sometimes It...and occasionally You and I. (cf. Joan Osborne's song "What if God Was One Of Us?", used as the theme to the sadly defunct Joan of Arcadia).

This sort of thing really resonates with me. I like the idea of Reason not in opposition to Religion, but aside from it. I like (and identify) with a God most easily reached through music and art and impossible to encompass with thought alone.
And this makes sense whether you use New Age or Christian terminology. To the New Ager, each of us is comprised of Body, Mind, and Spirit; the Body does not contain the Spirit but rather the other way around (hence auras and such). The Spirit is often thought of as a piece of the Universal Soul; the Mind is simply there for making sense of the Body's impressions. To attempt to 'divine' Spirit through the Mind is to miss the point.

Put in a completely different way, "for in Him we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28). My own sense is that most people would read that sentence to mean in His WAYS we live and move and have our being"...and I think this is one case where it might be of benefit to take your Bible literally.
If you think through a quotation like that, you'll be forever missing the forest for the trees, trying to 'spot' God in every little thing and not realizing you're actually drowning in God every minute of every day.

In any event, I look forward to discovering Armstrong's thoughts on the matter. I see my public library, wonder of wonders, actually stocks this title....


Rocketstar said...

I guess my question is... so let's say that there does exist a generic creator of the universe 'god'(although we have no evidence to support it but it is possible just ass a pink unicorn existing is possible ;o) ).

What does that provide us? It doesn't answer any meaningful questions like why are we here, why is the universe here etc... and I think that is why organized religion exists to create specifics and to provide us insecure humans with those answers.

It may make one feel better but I don't get what it provides us although I wish the entire human race woudl take your stance ;o)

Ken Breadner said...

The answer--or rather, my answer, according to my belief system--is...everything.
If the natural universe is...let's say 'infused'...with God, that means that I am God, you are God, that tree sloth is God, it's all God. What does It provide us with? The material and ability to shape/create our own experience. In Christian parlance, it's 'free will'...though I'd argue that point: how free is your will if one course of action will supposedly land you in a pit of eternal damnation?
To go back to a really old post, "we're making it all up as we go along". That's literally true, I believe: we are MAKING it up. And so God is both much smaller and vastly bigger than the usual Christian conception.

Rocketstar said...

"...that means that I am God, you are God, that tree sloth is God, it's all God... The material and ability to shape/create our own experience."
-- And this is exactly the same as the Atheist viewpoint provides. It's the old "Atheism, We all get one shot at life, don't waste it."

We are both on the same page, just using different font. ;o)

Ken Breadner said...

Well, not quite. It's entirely possible there exist other dimensions from which we come before birth and into which we go after death. Note: this does not imply a heaven or a hell. Just...something else, a different plane of existence, you might say, in which we are discorporate energy.
If this is true--and I'm not saying it is--it still does boil down to "life is what you make it." It's just that perhaps death is, too.

Anonymous said...


I'm on Rocketstar's side on this one. The nuance of what you describe is beyond me.

If God isn't an external conscience governing our lives, and is instead part of the fabric of the universe itself, then what's the point? It becomes entirely a philosophical argument with no applicability to daily life.

But if it gives you comfort and solace to accept your view, well then it does have purpose, but its entirely personal.

Ever since I fully embraced atheism, I do find I have adopted it with the vigor of a "born-again" christian, the kind of person I mocked as a christian. So I have become a "born-again" atheist. With all the urges to preach the wonders of my new-found "faith" to the world and convert the unwashed masses to the "truth".

While I'm largely successful in suppressing the urge to preach, the irony of the shoe being on the other foot amuses me.

Ken Breadner said...

It's funny you should say that such a god is 'entirely personal'. Most people I've thrown this at suggest precisely the opposite, that a god that's everywhere is almost by definition IMpersonal (and therefore pointless).
Let me be clear: I'm just as strongly atheist as you or Rocket...IF the God in question is some heavenly Father sitting on a cloud some place, sifting through millions of prayers and throwing the unbelievers in hell. To me that's actually beyond ludicrous.
As far as an application to daily life, believing in the sort of god I do is--for me, at least--quite liberating. It doesn't demand to be worshiped. It won't throw me in hell, no matter what I do. And since it's everywhere and in everyONE, it behooves me to, as the Buddhists say, see the perfection in every event and every person. (I don't *have* to do this--there's nothing I *have* to do--there's only what's beneficial and what isn't.)
This works for me. Keeps me centered. I strive to better myself in every way I can, every day. Anything less would be a sin...that is to say, an error.
With this mindset it's really amazing how much Christian preachery suddenly makes a little more sense. God *can* be omnipresent, omniscient and omnibenevolent--if you're willing to accept there's no such thing as absolute evil. That's a helluva mindstretcher, I know...

brtthome said...

"Universe infused with god, you are god" reminds me of Michael Valentine Smith's, "Thou art god." in Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land...See

The ironic "transcendalism" that you mention is developed in SIASL.

(first time posting here, so my handle might be screwed up. Chalk (chock?)it up to age.) ... Tom S.

Ken Breadner said...

Tom, welcome and thanks for de-lurking.
SiaSL--and much of Heinlein--has certainly influenced my thinking. The series that has most affected my thought is Neale Donald Walsch's Conversations With God.. The first, third, and ninth books in the series are particularly worth the read.