John Hick, a religious pluralist, popularized the analogy that “the real” (god) was known to humans the same way three blind men would “known” an elephant. One feels the stringy tail, one feels the wide belly, and one feels the muscular, rough trunk. We are blind people feeling whatever parts of the real we happen to stumble upon and though our cultural/religious explanation may differ from others, they are all equal interpretations of the divine reality.
Jacques Ellul said that Christians pretend to believe in the god of the bible but instead worship some divine gumball machine. We deposit our prayer and wait expectantly for our Answer to be handed to us. We make idols out of these answers.
Idol-hungry and needing more stability than “faith,” we reduce god to principles, and worship the principles instead.
I’ve had moments, I think, where I’ve been in communion with the universe, which I like to say more than “god” because it is less loaded. When I talk about “the universe” people assume I’m flakey rather than assuming that I’m a bigoted religious person. Which is more accurate.
When I lost my wallet in a foreign country and I didn’t know how I was going to get home. When I was visiting a dilapidated church in St. Louis. When it looked like my dad was dying. The time I got lost in the woods while hiking, and I thought I was going to freeze to death. When I am sitting somewhere beautiful and trying to converse with whatever it is I was put on this earth to converse with.
I mean, there’s not nothing.
In Franny & Zooey, Franny Glass tries to achieve hesychastic prayer because she believes it’s authentic, as opposed to all the phoney college experiences she’s had so far. Her brother tells her:
You can say the Jesus Prayer from now till doomsday, but if you don’t realize that the only thing that counts in the religious life is detachment, I don’t see how you’ll ever even move an inch. Detachment, buddy, and only detachment. Desirelessness. ‘Cessation from all hankerings.’ It’s this business of desiring, if you want to know the goddam truth, that makes an actor in the first place. Why’re you making me tell you things you already know? Somewhere along the line — in one damn incarnation or another, if you like — you not only had a hankering to be an actor or an actress but to be a good one. You’re stuck with it now. You can’t just walk out on the results of your own hankeringes. Cause and effect, buddy, cause and effect. The only thing you can do now, the only religious thing you can do, is act. Act for God, if you want to — be God’s actress, if you want to. What could be prettier? You can at least try to, if you want to — there’s nothing wrong in trying.” There was a slight pause. “You’d better get busy, though, buddy. The goddam sands run out on you every time you turn around.
A good friend from college, B, came out to me. He was my first gay friend. I thought gay people were annoying, at that time. He was baptist. His family was baptist. He went to a baptist school because, more than wanting a boyfriend that loved him, more than basically anything else on the planet, he wanted to be “cured.”
He’d hope that by surrounding himself with religion, he could change who he was. By wanting and praying to not be “sinful” he wouldn’t be.
It was this pure desperation that forever changed my world view. You can’t fault someone so desperate they run into the arms of a god they think fundamentally hates this thing that is a part of their identity.
In the Shūsaku Endō novel, Deep River, Endō uses the Ganges river as a metaphor for god. People travel to the river for many reasons, some believing it holy–others skeptical. The river is there for them but it does not acknowledge them, it doesn’t intervene. It serves it’s purpose merely by existing. While the action of the story takes place, the river is always there, flowing, unchanged.
Paul Tillich tried to use the concept of revelation in Christianity to answer the questions raised by existential philosophers, noting that while a philosopher’s role is to ask questions, a theologians role is to answer them.
For him, god was the code that, when understood, would make sense of the rest of the world.
Before the apostle Paul like, wrote half the bible and built the early church, he actually hated Jesus and his followers. He was vehemently against having faith in Jesus and then one day he was traveling and he heard this voice from heaven, went blind for three days, changed his name and became Jesus’ #1 fan.
One of the reasons I can’t accept the extra Ecclesiam nulla salus aspect of any religion is this kind of conversation experience. Paul was converted by an outside source, entirely against his will. Why am I obligated to hold onto whatever number of “beliefs” I need in order to go to heaven when it’s handed to other people who don’t even want it? That makes god into a very unjust being.
Probably the most interesting thing written in the bible:
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
In the language this text was written in (Koine Greek), “word” is the word logos, an important concept in Greek philosophy (which is all philosophy, kind of). One of the earliest pre-Socratic philosophers, Heraclitus, used “logos” to mean wisdom, and knowledge.
It’s interesting to think about this verse from a rational person’s perspective. Like, do all the laws of logic and science work because there could be no world in which 2+2 equals 5? Are empirical truths, the things we can prove, that way because “god” or whatever made them that way, or because that is Logos? Or, is this saying god and “wisdom” are the same thing?