Sunday, November 28, 2010

A few brief remarks on two common obstacles to "taking God seriously"

The medieval Christian view of God creating th...Image via Wikipedia
[The following is taken from a larger conversation originally conducted elsewhere. It has been edited for congruity and sensibility, including some new text, but the integrity of its original meaning is left intact.]

Common objection one is the so-called problem of evil. We can merge it with the deep desire for justice, reconciliation and renewal.

 Evil isn't a naturally occurring substance. It is a moral judgment in an ethical context. It arises from an evolved strategy for recognizing and viscerally reacting to threats to social beings and it is enabled by a recognition of others as self-aware individuals with similar feelings and experiences. Suffering is an integral aspect of conscious awareness in a body with limits and needs, and death is an fundamental component of life. So, a universe without suffering and death would be a universe without sentience or life. A world without good and evil would be a world of indifference. The problem with theodicy arises when God is seen as a cosmic architect who somehow chooses among options for how the universe could have been formulated and when we are dissatisfied with what we assume are God's choices. If it is suggested that existence reflects God's nature then God must be capricious and cruel. Yet many secularists will argue that life is (more) precious and meaningful because each moment is so fragile -- full of the potential for joy, pain, life, death, wonder, fear and a million other experiences -- and each moment and each life is therefore unique and irreplaceable.

On another level, the mystics and contemplatives of every major world religion, from Hinduism to Buddhism to Christianity, describe their experience of the Source, of the "original mind", or of the "divine", etc, as boundless wisdom and compassion, as indescribable fulfillment and acceptance. As to the idea of everything being redeemable and longing for reconciliation, these are not the pipe dreams of childish fantasies. But they require a recognition that earth and heaven, that samsara and nirvana, are not two but one. The beauty and the hope that we long for has always been here and a part of us. But we remake the world, socially, culturally, and environmentally, to fit our expectations. When we wake up to the wonder and richness of our truest nature, as beings capable of accessing awareness in a radically profound way and residing in amazing forms made of stardust, when we recognize and reclaim our deep interconnection with the rest of the universe, then we will see that renewal. And because these interconnections are unlimited, this renewal isn't limited to any one time or place.

Common objection two is the confusing and often ridiculous way in which religious mystery and imagery is discussed.  This can be combined with competing standards of and expectations for evidence.

These get back to something I have written about quite a bit -- the expectations and assumptions one brings to the table as well as the requirements and standards one applies to them. The idea of a supreme being, the supernatural, etc, are culturally embedded ideas. It takes time and patience to unpack them, place them in the proper context, and examine them. If you hang out with people who have one set of definitions for these things, then obviously you will employ those yourself. And then it becomes easy to take up sides and create dichotomies which dictate the terms of discussion or debate. For my thoughts on such subjects I would redirect you to the following as representative examples:

Into the great wide open, part two - going beyond supernaturalism
Holding the mystery of the faith
Hang-ups to seeking God, Part 1: What does it mean to know God?
Quantum tempest in a celestial teapot
Ajahn Punnadhammo ponders "Why is there something rather than nothing?"
Is God a person or just some vague cosmic force?
"The highest" and "most worthy"?
"The One" and "the Only"
Handling Science and Religion Properly
Caveman Og and the problem of religious mystery
Solid rock or shifting sand?
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