Monday, August 10, 2009

Hang-ups to seeking God, Part 1: What does it mean to know God?

Series inspired by past and taken from excerpts of present conversations on the issue [Part 2 and Part 3 have been added]...

I suggest there is more to what it means to "know God" or to "find salvation" than the construction that is so often passed on - if you "believe" (give intellectual assent) the following set of propositions about the nature of Jesus as well as the literal view and historical validity of the events of his Earthly existence as recorded in the Gospels, "confess" your need for God's grace, and "ask" for forgiveness, then you will continue in some form after death in a paradise. So, the requirement to for afterlife in Heaven is seen primarily as believing. No belief and confession, no reward. Some Christians probably couldn't imagine why they should give two farts about Jesus or the Bible if they aren't going to get to "live on" after they die and spend that time in bliss. I think this construction is fatally flawed and presumes a view of our existence, the nature of our being, and of the Kingdom of God that is too limiting and too formulaic... At the time of the early Church and for centuries thereafter embracing the possibility of magical-sounding supernatural interventions was much more common and easier to accept, so it wasn't so much asking to believe that someone could touch you and heal your physical illness (i.e. "belief" as giving intellectual assent to what to us today may seem like an absurdly improbably event), it was more like asking to people to believe that Jesus (and by extension his presentation of God, love, acceptance, etc) was genuine (i.e. "belief" as trusting or being faithful to Jesus and what he represents/offers)...

I don't think truth here should be reduced to a set of doctrines, especially when that implies strictly Christian article of faith and that thinking about the Source is only valid in the terms and descriptions built up in the Christian tradition. In as much as such articles and descriptions help move on toward a pure heart and a greater awareness of Being, that's great, but too often the means are seen as the end and such doctrines are viewed an exclusive means of access to the Divine as the one true and real tradition... If one makes "God" into a "thing" this implies there must be "testable" correlates to the attributes of this "phenomenon" upon which one can rationally make a decision to either "accept" or "reject". Any God you can "accept" or "reject" is NOT the Divine; it is a caricature, an imperfect model, a placeholder - something which runs the risk of becoming an idol. Whether it is an icon or a description, it must by default be imperfect. The "God" of ones intellect must always be treated with suspicion and perhaps even subjected to some humor, lest we take that image too seriously. (I)f God is love and Christ is peace and the Holy Spirit is comfort, then any place where these things are manifest how can they not be of these aspects of the Divine? Unless one simply views these aspects as avatars of these virtues, promoting them and generating them but not actually of one accord and substance with them. And if God is present whenever anyone has a pure heart, and if Christ is present in everyone we meet, then what does that say about the nature of the Gospel and what it really means? It would mean the "Trinity" must be active in Hindu shrines and Buddhist temples. It means that the Divine must be present at atheist and humanist meetings.

How many...atheists spend their time spurning and rejecting compassion? How many of them want to tear down and destroy love? How many of them have no desire to forgive or be forgiven...? How many of them write at length about hating their own existence? ... Atheists may reject various intellectual abstractions and empirical claims, but is that really the same as rejecting God? Perhaps it is if, as I've been writing, one presumes that intellectual assent to a series of propositions is the primary substance of belief and the only way to "know" God. Which brings us back to the sentiments quoted from Weil but expressed by contemplatives within Christianity for centuries in varying ways - what is it to know God? I agree with Weil that an atheist of pure heart can indeed "know God" whereas someone with the intellectual and verbal assent to the Christian sinner's prayer and creeds who really thinks they want to be and have been "saved" can be without any genuine awareness of the Divine. Again, it gets back to what it truly means to "know" God before one can really claim to have "rejected" God, and again, any God you can deign to accept or reject is just another idol. I don't really believe it is possible for one to actually "know" the Divine and deny It (as that would be denying ourselves and all that is/was/will be), but we sure as hell can talk a good game about our speculations and our vanities.

There are a million things one might mean by "pure heart"... The heart is a popular spiritual image and a commonality I have noted in the interfaith studies of many sacred traditions is the representation of the heart as the point of conscious awareness of our participation in Being itself. I wrote about it quite a bit in the thread from which this one was spun-off, but the idea is that the pure heart never really "goes away". It may be covered or obscured by hardened layers of psychological baggage, emotional problems, false views/deception, etc wrapped up as conceit, guilt, spiritual numbness, etc, but it is not "gone" and it cannot be corrupted... The resolution of different sacred traditions take various forms and use myriad descriptions ("salvation", "liberation", etc) but a core commonality is finding wholeness and an accompanying deep peace and joy by opening oneself up and returning to that conscious awareness of our participation in reality-as-it-is. Hence anyone at any time is capable of "tuning in" to that sacredness even if only for a moment. It isn't so much about trying to be "holy" as about getting out of one's own way by doing that which takes us beyond our typical limiting mindset and self-preoccupation (for example thinking about the welfare of others). In this, one does not need to invoke any particular symbol or name and there is nothing "less perfect" about it even if one uses other language, even secular language, or none at all.

Any God that can be accepted or rejected is not God. What is accepted or rejected are images, depictions, and descriptions of God. To use similar language, the "deep heart" cannot reject itself. Which is why I return to the question, "Does our notion of the Divine bringing us closer to a greater awareness of that Source and a deeper appreciation of our participation in and as an aspect of It?" If [particular terms or images are unacceptable] because of their baggage, drive people away, then reject! Reject! Go for something you can appreciate. Make it totally "safe" and secular sounding. Even just calling it Reality or Truth. Fine. Because even if one is not formally looking for "God" or even "Truth", a part of us is seeking that wholeness. It may seek it through ultimately futile ends, but none of (can) really reject that drive. [Of course, eventually healing and growth should allow most people to get over their conceptual hangups and allergies to "God-talk".]

(For clarification, when I talk about accepting or rejecting God, I am talking about a specific depiction of God, not the orientation to/of God. Nor am I suggesting we should have no views at all, but that we shouldn't be arrogant enough to think our conceptions are able to completely contain and explain God. Such efforts are simply idolatry.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Hello! Thanks for leaving a comment.

Everything but spam and abusive comments are welcome. Logging in isn't necessary but if you don't then please "sign" at the end of your comment. You can choose to receive email notifications of new replies to this post for your convenience, and if you find it interesting don't forget to share it. Thanks!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...