Friday 11 October 2013

Truth beyond beliefs

Recently I've exchanged correspondence with a American gentleman who was an early, active and constructive force in the transition process within our shared sectarian heritage. Neither of us have remained there, but his current understanding tends toward a more traditional appreciation of Christian belief. He noted:

To be direct:  I think we are coming at events from different world views these days (I largely view secular humanism and methodological naturalism as both shallow and self-refuting)...

My response:

I ... remain convinced that purpose and directionality are basic to the universe, but find the Bible descriptive in a bottom-up sense rather than prescriptive in a top-down sense.

That's a pretty darn clumsy way to say whatever it was that I was trying to say, so my correspondent thought he might help me out:

You mention purpose and directionality, and I wonder if you are a theist at all.  Perhaps agnosticism would be an alternative.

So here I am, pondering a further response. I don't like labels. Labels are, as the saying goes, disabling. And once you've attached one it's also a devil of a job to remove it when it's outlived its usefulness. I certainly have my doubts about theism, but so surely does any sane individual, at least part of the time. Theism is as much about Zeus or Odin as it is about Yahweh. In fact theism raises a whole lot more questions than it solves. Agnosticism is a relatively modern term (1869) that often reflects lazy thinking. We're all agnostic about some things, but on others we are all likewise prepared to take a leap of faith. We simply differ in which things we put in which categories.

Then I ran across these words quite by accident... or perhaps serendipity:

Humble in the face of a spiritual reality whose essence we cannot 'know', we speak in metaphors. Our 'truth' is a truth of the heart no less than of the mind. The 'facts' we assert are those of the hopeful spirit.

These wise words are found in the introduction to the Reform Jewish prayer book, Gates of Prayer.

Humility, metaphor and the hopeful spirit. That about says it in any tradition.

Perhaps those of us who are Christians struggling under the garrulous burden of propositional dogma, might wish to whisper a quiet 'amen' of our own.


  1. It's difficult to determine this from one or two sentences, but it sounds as if you had an encounter with one of those "take control" types, the type of individual most of us make a studious effort to avoid. In business, we can sometimes recognize such ones in advance, because when they shake your hand, they often do a 90 degree counter clockwise hand rotation so that theirs comes out on top. I like the quotation towards the closing of your post. It's the high road.


  2. Why should the "amens" be quiet?

    The quote states brilliantly an approach to mystery, and especially to the central mystery, which many people would be delighted to affirm, the alternatives are prescriptive attempts to deny mystery. Yet life is inscrutable, "No one has seen God".

    Much that is called "theism" denies mystery by the simple expedient of making God convenient and comprehensible (a god). Much that is called "atheism" does the same and then denies that this god exists.

  3. I agree with Bulkeley. The statement from the Reform Jewish prayer book beautifully captures the mystical dimension of belief. Fundamentalist Christians, fundamentalist atheists and other fundamentalists want to strip away this mysticism. But to strip away the mysticism is to make a commitment to some brand of objectivism dependent on the flawed capabilities of human cognition and reasoning. Dedicated scientists believe everyday of their lives in stuff they do not really understand like dark matter and quantum mechanics. When the scientist finally claim that they understand these arcane topics, there will be other phenomena that they do not understand yet are an essential part of reality. One of the great literary works of the OT, the Book of Job, concludes with Job admitting that he did not understand God's activities on earth. Yet evangelical Christians seem to believe they understand what Job did not. What they really understand is their own person objectivism.

    -- Neo

  4. You Christians:
    Meet the greatest thinker of all time:
    - Charles Darwin -

  5. One would think, that if God exists and has created the entire universe, replete with stellar nurseries which churn out stars larger and brighter than our son, unpacked a universe 150 billion light years across within a mere 180,000 years, created supernova to provide heavy metals like gold, silver and platinum and made an unlikely world which not just supports life, but life of the human sort, that only those who understand science and have structural visualization would have the talent to perceive and understand the Supreme Technologist of the Universe.

    Historians, religious types, Corporate Executives and accountants just wouldn't cut it.

    And if you don't believe that then just look at the religious types who promote British Israelism.

  6. DB. the reigious "types": started unionism, hospitals, social outreach programs, schools, financial assistance to the poor : industrial/ rural communities, Red Cross etc...