The whole ideology of the modern West (and increasingly the East as it falls under the shadow of the West) is built on the denial of God. Sometimes we try to convince ourselves that this is a rational response to the world as we see it but that is just not true. There is no proof, as science sees proof, of God but there never has been. Indeed there never could be because, by definition, God is outside the realm of material science. He is not a physical thing and cannot be such because something cannot be the creator of itself. No, the truth is that we do not want there to be a God because we do not want our freedom, as we see it, to be in any way curtailed. We are against God because we are for ourselves. That is the truth which we cover up by all sorts of grand sounding words and theories but the fact is that if you look into the heart of someone who denies God you will find an egotist. Of course, many religious people are also egotists (as, in some sense, we all are) but, if they are sincere in their religion, and have adopted it for the right reasons, they have taken a step towards recognising that within themselves and trying to do something about it.
It is clear from history that human beings have often rejected God in an attempt to be free but this freedom is merely that of the human ego and so is just another and deeper form of bondage. However the nature of the human being is such that when you have no God to worship you look for something else to satisfy that need (the need for self-transcendence) within yourself. Now we have taken to all sorts of false ideologies and beliefs in order to do this but they all prove hollow and insubstantial because their roots are not in truth. And, strangely enough, we actually know this but cannot bring ourselves to accept the conclusion so we persist in our fantasies. We construct belief systems that pretend that man is primarily a social being or a sexual being or a political being or whatever else it may be, and we base our attitudes on that. But man is first and foremost a spiritual being. Everything else springs from this. If that is denied or ignored the result will be that we live a lie and our hearts and minds will not conform to each other. There will be an alienation caused by this split which will only deepen the wider the split becomes. This is the situation we find ourselves in today.
Modern man has gone mad and doesn't recognises his madness which increases by the day with the result that he needs to build more and more elaborate houses of cards (in science, politics, the arts, even certain forms of spirituality) to hide the reality from himself of his rejection of truth. This resembles nothing so much as an adolescent rebellion, and we are indeed like the prodigal son when he was at his furthest distance from his father. The question is will we, like him, eventually repent and turn back or will we carry on our self-indulgent ways to their inevitable conclusion? This question can be posed both individually and collectively. There's not much we can do about the latter but the former is of crucial importance, and the answer is entirely up to us. The good news is that wherever we are we can start to turn around now, from this very minute. Nothing can stop us except our own lack of will.
This post is called the spiritual decay of the West but one cannot say with any certainty that the decay started at such and such a time. There has practically always been an eroding of spiritual truth even if it is restored from time to time. But perhaps one can date the start of the decay in its current form to the end of the Middle Ages when God began no longer to be viewed as at centre stage and humanism became the predominating ethos. The creature took over from the Creator. This, of course, did bring advances in certain areas but against that we must set the fact that, as time went by, we lost the sense of truth as an absolute; an objective reality that stood above us and to which we should co-ordinate our being. We accepted the idea that reality depended on our interpretation of it and that, as a consequence, there was no such thing as reality. It became malleable. So our roots were in shifting sand. Is it any wonder we have become so fundamentally restless and confused? How could we be otherwise given the unspoken assumption that there is nothing real, nothing true, nothing absolute? Only the understanding that God is real can give our lives that fixed immovable centre that we need to feel secure. Without it we are hollow men who can be blown about in any direction but never find peace.
Decay means that something that was healthy is rotting and normally this is a one way process which cannot be reversed. However in spiritual terms it can if it receives (to put this in modern terms) some energy from outside the system. The birth of Christ was the supreme example of that. But on a smaller scale this can happen to each one of us individually if we open ourselves up to it, and that means (putting it this time in traditional terms) if we repent of our past ways and have faith. Faith in what, you might ask. How can I have faith in God if I don't even know what that means? I would say you don't have to know what it means. You just have to allow yourself to acknowledge the reality of a Creator who is all love and all goodness, and who is the source of all truth. I say 'allow yourself' because this is the reality and all that is preventing you from recognising that fact are the obstructions you put up with your self-centred thought and ego. That's all. Without your suspicious mind (which you are not asked to suspend but to see as something that interprets more than it perceives, perception being an instant thing, not taking place in time like mental processes) you would see the reality of God intuitively and then you could build on that. In this matter it is the mind that blocks perception though when it is correctly guided by intuition then it can help to deepen awareness and understanding.
So, acknowledge the Creator. For people in the West the best way to do that remains the Christian way, or, as I would rather put it, the way of Christ. He is the Illuminator of the Way. For those who might not be comfortable with aligning themselves with a particular branch of Christianity (all much diminished in modern times) Christ can still be, should still be, the centre of their spiritual life as he is the human face of God and in his person transmits the essence of the divine. This is not a recommendation for a pick and mix approach to religion but a recognition that all religions, including Christianity, have lost much of their spiritual force in this day and age but Christ has not. He remains what he has always been which is the Way, the Truth and the Life, though I mean this in a universal sense not a narrow sectarian one. Everybody, except perhaps the greatest saints, needs a form for their belief or it will peter out into emptiness. The form of Christ is the best because it embodies the formless truth to the highest and most perfect extent that has yet been known in this world. Christ will arrest decay.
I really like this post - you get at the heart of the matter here.
"allow yourself to acknowledge the reality of a Creator who is all love and all goodness, and who is the source of all truth"
I have been dwelling on -- perhaps obsessing over -- this idea for years now, giving it as sympathetic a hearing as I know how, but always with the same frustrating result: it means nothing to me, explains nothing, makes no sense, produces no fruit, and I just can't get myself to assent to it. I can say the words "God is real," but in my heart of hearts I don't really believe it for a second and I don't know how to. Do you have any suggestions?
What do you think your purpose is?
Wm Jas, thanks for your comment which expresses something very real for many people.
First of all, let me say that I do appreciate the problem because it is a problem, especially now when the whole culture is against God. Or else the image of God presented by believers is too often clearly a projection of their own ideas, hopes dreams, fantasies etc. But the point I started from was that the hankering in the heart for something real that was beyond the multiplicity of outer things, and that answered one's cravings (not too strong a word) for goodness, beauty, justice, truth and so on must be based on something solid. You just don't feel thirst if water doesn't exist.
Then one has to approach the matter through the imagination and intuition rather than thought. This might need faith to begin with but can develop into intellectual insight when nourished by prayer and meditation, if you are that way inclined. Nothing new there, you might say, and you'd be right but how could there be? It's the same old path even if it often gets overgrown. I was told by my teachers that it was important to stay simple and not over-complicate things with excessive thought which tends to go round in circles and get nowhere. Which doesn't mean don't think but don't think too much. You don't reach truth through thinking, though thinking can help formulate understanding.
I would guess that the fact you're thinking about this so much means you're like a fruit coming to ripening, if you don't mind me putting it that way! But you don't want to do something stupid or deceive yourself just because your desires are pointing you in a certain direction. Maybe you've seen other people do just that. Because people often do believe in God for the wrong reasons, there's no doubt about it. But you don't have to surrender common sense to have faith. You can have a wise faith or a foolish one.
What you could do is take the idea of a creator as a working hypothesis and see where you go from there. Maybe call it that (the Creator) rather than God as the latter may have a lot of baggage for you. It does for many of us.
Anyway, try to see the world as an environment in which consciousness can experiment and grow to become more aligned with the intelligence that is at the heart of the universe. You could use the teachings and person of Christ as tools to help you do this but it's not essential. And trust your heart. It's a cliché but it's true. That doesn't mean your feelings as in emotions but what your heart thinks (underlined). Honestly, look around you. Where did all this come from? The materialistic idea is frankly preposterous. It all popped into being from nothing? Who could believe that unless the weight of our contemporary culture was insisting on it? Where did you come from? Your mind, your feelings, your very sense of self? Just random mutation of a pile of dust? Believing in that is a far greater stretch than believing in God. You don't have to know what God is. Just see that there is an intelligence and a purpose in the universe but it's not immediately obvious because if it were we wouldn't have to work towards it which means we would not grow. There would be no struggle, no conflict, no testing and spiritual growth comes from these. (to be continued)
Furthermore, we need to understand that there are cycles in the human experience of this world. Now we are in one when the sense of physical matter, the outer world, is emphasised and the sense of spirit is diminished. It's as though the environment had solidified, making it harder to see past it. This may be a natural thing that occurs as time goes by or it may be part of the means whereby we develop the mind. Either way it obscures spirit but if we know what’s taking place it makes it easier to deal with and adjust ourselves to without letting the obscurity lead to blindness.
I’ve gone on too long and am sure won't have said anything you haven't heard before, but sometimes hearing the same thing from a different perspective gives one a new way of looking at old problems. There's no magic button that can be pressed though. This is something we all have to work through on our own if it is to be real for us. The fact that you are doing that suggests to me that you are doing the seeking without which nothing can be found, and that you just need the light to fall at the right angle to make things clear.
William, thank you for the long and thoughtful reply. I will spend some time considering the points you make and see if they shed any light on theism.
Just reading the comments from Wm Jas Tychonievich and I must say I thoroughly empathise with his experiences. I seem to have periods in which I feel a direct and compelling conviction that there is a loving creator that personally is invested in my existence. At other times i feel that connection is distant, lost or just a figment of my imagination. At such times I find myself thinking a lot about philosophy or different arguememts that are my best attempts to gain purchase on the basic reality of the Christian narrative. One immediate dead end is the recurring thought "But who created God anyway?" and I find the answer "He just always has been or is eternal!" makes my brain short circuit and I get an uncomfortable feeling of impenetrable vastness in my mind. I then tend to think of the characteristics that are necessary to be a person or to have a personality and that these things must inevitably change or develop with time for a person to develop or mature or to be experienced as another unique individual. When i try to apply these same anthropomorphic qualities to a supreme being or higher intelligence I find I cannot really treat the resultant conceptions very seriously. I imagine something not disimilar to a classic renaisance depiction of God complete with Toga, beard and shafts of radiating light from the heavens. But then in such a vision the implication would surely be a God who can behave within time and perform deliberate actions such as talking, looking at things, eating,...insert an anthropomorphic action here...whilst presumably the heavens he is floating in are not him? So what are they? If he were to talk to you or me then how could he pay you undivided attention whilst still instantaneously know how the hairs on a mans head are blowing in his created wind in a remote corner of planet earth. At this point we have surely concieved of a God whose individual identity must inevitably disolve into the immensity of his/her? Creation? I just dont know how to conceive of God in a way that I can understand that fits with my experience of reality and for that conception to be concrete and reliable. For example, I find the notion of a divine intelligence governing the universe easy to entertain but when it becomes anthropomorphic or that notion of God inhabits a human body, etc. Then it is harder for me to force myself to accept something that at another level my mind remains deeply skeptical and routinely attempts to reject the idea as just plain silly.
The real drop off point for me or fault line or however you want to put it is when we move from a kind of pantheism or deism that someone like Spinoza or Einstein might advocate at the *personal* theism of Christianity. This has always been the most difficult and contested piece of no mans land between my faith or agnosticism. I find that It is often very easy to see a God of mathematics or divine order or beauty in a snow drop or sunset. But snowdrops or sunsets are not personal except in so far as how we might feel about them. I might feel moved by hearing the Gospel story and feel that the character of Christ is unique and the messiah. I often feel I know this is true. At other times I recognise within myself that I dont really know that is true or that biblical miracles really happened. I just hope they did or like to believe that magical thinks can and do happen like Jesus turning water inro wine or raising Lazarus from the dead. But then I think "Do I really know this happened?" and the answer is not really. I find myself defending miracles like Jesus walking on water to his fierce modern opponents (ie everybody I know except from a handful of people on the internet) and their offhand dismissiveness stirs the seeds of doubt again. I am unable to explain how I know Jesus actually existed or exists let alone walked on water but at another level I think I know that he did but all I have to go on are some storybooks and these things dont seem very credible witnesses nowadays. Still, I take Pascals wager and just go with it and ignore the voice of skepticm and everyone else. Can i justify this? How? It seems at time like a pigheaded refusal to give up on some 'ideas' that are difficult to defend. I often wish the thing could be settled with a clear and unambiguous miracle to startle the naysayers into a bit of a metaphysical wakeup call and to get rid of my own lurking doubting Thomas. He never seems far away.
So I see God in a snowflake and then I imagine the pensioner who died of hypothermia in the winter and no one even noticed until spring. I think of the deaths, the tragedies and the heart aches that seem to float about and blight some lives over others for reasons I cannot understand or explain. I find myself unable to adequately explain why sweethearts mother died of cancer when she was a young woman (the time she needed her most) and why she cannot be here now to see her new grandaughter and this saddens me. An old aquainance from school dropped deafd in his sleep with a sudden undetected heart condition. He was so young and just recently married. His whole life ahead of him. Why? I encounter seemingly incomprehensible tragedies every day in my working life and people just die suddenly or after illness and terrible things happen for reasons beyond the grasp of humans. How can you learn a lesson from this if it makes mo sense to the sufferer? Good parents that cant have children weep and pray for their prayers to be answered whilst bad parents who abuse and neglect their children have many children that then go into social care. Why does a personal God allow this? All these things seem very difficult to reconcile with a personal loving God. I So I can get as far as Einsteins conception of an impersonal God quite easily and stop there but how can you persuade me that its personal? The world seems deeply impersonal and indifferent to human beings hopes, dreams, aspirations or sufferings.. does it not? Every day I pray and perhaps obsessively think about these matters in my spare moments and I ask God to reveal himself so that I can make sense of these things. Dear God please help me with mine unbelief...but as time goes by one does begin to wonder if they are protecting a house of cards.
Just a brief afterthought: the above may seem unduely negative but is presented as a kind of potential starting point to delineate the lie of the land from an agnostic/atheistic perspective which *may* resonate with other similarly afflicted intellectuals (perhaps WJT?) and in the hope that somehow exchanging Intel on this intellectual maze may be a way of getting at the root of shared stumbling blocks to faith. Ultimately though as far as I can tell and I suspect William may agree, thinking too much can get one totally bogged down in the mud. The only escape appears to be based on following ones intuition or changing ones metaphysical stance on some fundamental beliefs about the nature of reality and our personal experience of it. Sadly this is not a very satisfying answer somehow and a difficult one to achieve for modern intellectuals. The no mans land is an alien landscape. An entirely new way of thinking intuitively is necessary to escape the logical maze of thought. I can only manage this briefly and then laspe back into a lifetimes worth of habitual trained thought processes i.e. A leads to B leads to C etc and not a perception that transcends this entirely eg that X or Y are good or bad because intuitively they have moral value that is hard or impossible to reconcile with A to B to C to despair thinking; a search for the end of the intellectual rainbow.
@WJT - perhaps the question is what kind of intellectual or logical explanation could ever satisfy your obsession? I have found that there is not a single one that can be condensed into symbolic form in writing or music or any other medium. But yet the compulsion to seek a satisfying elixir or a way to scratch the intellectual itch or to slake ones thirst or however you wish to put it remains an unmet need?! As William suggests why would you be thirsty without water? This seems a big clue. But sometimes the very spiritually thirsty become confused and delerious and follow mirages in the desert or dig in vain in search of water in parched land. Modern intellectuals seem to behave like this and this especially includes myself. The only time I feel the thirst is quenched by self-observation is when I drink from spiritual things e.g. allowing myself to intuitively connect with a synchronicity without dismissing it or *feeling* intuitively a sense of gratitude to a highter power in nature, etc. Why does it work if it is not real? Its hard to say because it is an example of transcending the abc deductive reasoning process and when one tries to translate the intuitive in that way it somehow loses its integrity or essence. The tower of Babel effect kicks in when i try and tell someone else my experience reliably. At least that is how i experience it.
David, to take a few of your remarks here. I mention doubt in the next post which is a continuation of my comment above. It’s normal and natural and part of the process of making sure we turn to spirituality for the right reason, i.e. love of truth and goodness regardless of what we might gain thereby. Only if we do the right thing for the right reason have we really learnt the lesson, and only then is any spiritual feeling we might have more than skin deep. After all, we’d all be good if we saw God looking right at us (as he actually is but we don’t see it), but would that be real? What are we like when we think no one is looking?
When you ask who created God you are putting him in time but he does not exist in time. It’s not that he always has been. God is. That’s it. So you don’t have to worry who created God!
Then you mention the gulf between the impersonal god of deism and pantheism, who is fairly easy to accept, and the personal God of theism. The trouble is,as you actually say, you can’t resolve this with the intellect. That is where most of us live most of the time but it is totally useless for perceiving truth. It’s not meant for that. The truth you just perceive in the heart and soul. That is why it’s such a problem for us moderns. We can accept a sort of Buddhist idea of things which more or less fits in, or can fit in, with our contemporary mentality. But we can’t accept a personal God who loves us and to whom our love is due. Not with our heads anyway. That’s just how it is and there’s no way round it and it is why faith is one of the cardinal virtues. But faith is not blind. It is founded on an inner sense of the rightness of where it points.
The tragedies you talk about are tragic but they are not final. When seen in the light of the reality of this world they are tragic. When seen in the light of the reality of God they become part of the pattern of suffering brought about by the Fall and our rejection of God but then used by him to purify souls of their egotism and bring them back to right thinking and right ways of looking at things. That doesn’t lessen the sorrow but it does mean that out of sorrow can come joy. The suffering comes when you restrict yourself to a material being. When you see yourself as a spiritual being then suffering may still be there but it is not the last word on the subject. There is a deeper truth which puts it into perspective. Easy to say, I know, but true all the same.
It is clear from history that human beings have often rejected God in an attempt to be free but this freedom is merely that of the human ego and so is just another and deeper form of bondage. However the nature of the human being is such that when you have no God to worship you look for something else to satisfy that need (the need for self-
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