Thursday, 1 March 2018

Philosophical Speculation Which Leads Nowhere

God is often described nowadays as existing beyond being, and this is fine if you wish to avoid the error of reducing him to something in creation, to an object of consciousness or, indeed, anything that can be conceptualised in any way. Ultimately God is unknowable to anything but God, and he that is the essence of being must be regarded as beyond that as it is in human terms, which is to say as it is in creation. So God can be imagined as the divine darkness that is there before the light of creation or prior to the activity involved to bring about our existence. All good apophatic stuff. However there is a drawback to this description of God in that it tends to reduce him to an abstraction and to depersonalise him. It removes him from us when really he is closer to us than our hands and feet. Indeed, being the archetypal 'I' of our 'I-ness', he is closer to us than we are to ourselves. 

The Masters told me that spiritual truth is simple. They told me this when my natural human desire always to go deeper was in danger of leading me astray from a truly spiritual approach of the heart to a more intellectual one that sought to understand, and not just to understand but to capture understanding, to possess it for myself. Could it be that the desire for wisdom is sometimes rooted in the ego? Can it divert one from the true path to a head-centred approach that is all about ideas.  I think this can be so. Not that wisdom isn't essential  for us and a natural thing for us to want to acquire. We are created to know it. But the desire for it can be a trap that leads one away from the truth in its basic simplicity and down blind alleys into philosophical speculations which lead, if not nowhere, then certainly nowhere of a spiritually fruitful nature.

You can speculate all you like about the divine darkness of pure being but if, in so doing, you lose sight of the essential personhood of God you will remain outside spiritual truth.

20 comments:

Edwin said...

Most thoughts are images of the ephemeral: they come and go and have no abiding substance. It seems to me that a thought has enduring value only when it is an image (or understanding) of that which is not ephemeral: the Divine and transcendent. But such abstractions are hard to grasp and hold, which is why Christ came to us. Philosophical speculation tends to strip away all that is personal in its quest for the perfect, all-encompassing abstraction, and it relies largely on logic, which means whatever conclusions it may reach are contained in the premises that it accepts as somehow axiomatic. Plato, perhaps the greatest philosopher, put forth the Paradox of Inquiry: how can we come to know something if the knowledge is not already within us? We would have no criterion for recognizing the truth of what we sought to know. I think we have an innate capacity to recognize truth, otherwise truth would be the remote preserve of the intellectually gifted to which most men would be barred, in which case it would be of little practical use in the world. Not long ago, while pondering large matters having to do with Schopenhauer's concept of will, I took a break and drove to a local produce stand to buy some things for dinner. The young man who took my money was beaming with good will. When he handed me my change, he looked at me lovingly and said, "You have a blessed day, sir." And he meant it with all his heart. I thought, as I walked away, that perhaps whatever inspired such good will was really our only hope, and that such hope is open to all of us. We can't really know truth and love. We can only be truth and love. Grand words, I know. they sound pat and pretentious, but that doesn't make them less true. In any event, you have a blessed day, William.

William Wildblood said...

Words can be just words or, if spoken with sincerity, can carry a real force. So my teachers told me when giving a farewell blessing after a talk. Thank you Edwin.

Eric - said...

This makes me think of Islam, and some grim conclusions I've come to about this religion. In Christianity, God is 3, so a link is created between God and man - which is Christ. This brings God closer to us and vice versa, so we are able to form a closer relationship to Him and develop it. Islam entirely cuts this chord! It says God can't be three, and creates a gap/distance between man and God - who withdraws to permanent abstraction. Muslims therefore become the subjects of God, with very little individual agency - wheras God himself becomes a governor rather than a Father. It is no coincidence Islam strictly forbids personalisations and depictions, as a despot should be obeyed, like the faceless modern state. Islam allows no individuality, and is the ultimate collectivist imperative between a distant ruler and his equally submitted subjects. Therefore there is no love in Islam. This led me to my second significant conclusion: in Islam, "what comes in" takes primacy, in the sense that emphasis is made on what to eat and how to pray etc. In Christianity, it's quite the opposite: what goes in is not as relevant as what comes out, so emphasis is made on internal purification rather than external "cleanliness". This means that Muslims try to externally negotiate themselves to heaven, while the internal spirit is actually suppressed! Islam therefore becomes thiswordly expansive, which makes it radically different from Christianity - indeed to the point of being scary. Nevertheless I think it's a valuable perspective regarding the topic of your post.

William Wildblood said...

I think you only have to compare Christ and Muhammad to know the difference between Islam and Christianity. Spread by violence and with a holy book that depicts a God who is not much more than a tyrant, it doesn't inspire confidence that it was divinely ordained. And yet there is much wisdom in Sufism but I think that was heavily influence by Christian devotion on the one hand and Hindu mysticism on the other, both mitigating the unspiritual qualities of Islam itself.

Eric - said...

Yes, Muhammed comes of as an ideologue more than a religious figure, who initiated a tribal crusade and realised a monotheistic God would be a great partner and turned him against the Jews. Which later proved to be a highly effective evolutionary strategy of conquest while simultaneously equalizing everything that is individual/particular in its path. It also creates a deceptive dualism which kind of splits up reality into Islam or not islam. Some will say isis are extremists, but isis will say they are just orthodox, meaning Muslim moderates and extremists are just two opposites of islams bipolarity.

The funny thing is when different Islamic schools have gathered to make sense of why the West eventually left the Muslim world lagging behind - they have often scapegoated Sufism as the obstructive force. When in reality Sufism might actually be the "solution" as it reflects the western mindset better which is not a coincidence since it emanates from Persian/indo-european thinking.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

I think many people have reached a level of maturity that enable them to choice their path to the one whose essence is unknowable away from the perverted boxes prevalent in our time. It is a self exploration toward truth which all humans have the rudimentary seed in what we call the soul. The soul that is not an object of knowledge but the conscious tool to know knowledge. In that river one either find or lose that tool. It is a personal errand and god have created us not to impose our will on others but only to point to what they possess inside and to activated it, and be in a patient wait. Of course the person should not be colored by one action. The difference among people can not be settled here that is why god has reserved that right to himself warning all prophets not to exceed their mission that of delivery. He already created all, knowing that there is the faithful and there is the faithless. Human freedom are not given without limits and when aggression on that limits occur the divine blowback takes care of the aggressor. A thing which most people believe not. Islam is surrender to the best names available for human imaging. I am Moslem and I do not mind to be criticized provided the critics have at lest read some of the Koran and grasped the presence of the divine in themselves and in the cosmos and know that nothing takes place without his will even the corruptive mission of some Jews and Christians that abused the purity of Judaism and Christianity, moving in the world under the umbrella of the white man burden to kill ,steal and oppress not to civilize and do good. There are two verses in the Koran one, states, God has summarizes the essence of religion in two words that of truth and that of justice. The second says the important incidence in human life is telling truth and work for truth. I feel we are living in time of epiphany, where people going to face the repercussion of their action promptly to face glaringly the truth of the undivided One and to know the oneness of humanity the oneness of god and the oneness of the soul. God essence is unknown and can not be known but we can know him through the names, basic among hem life, knowledge. will, ability to execute, speech,generosity and harmonious balance. the errand of the soul is to know truth and the truth of returning to him to be asked of what they have done during their short stay on earth. They see it very far but we see it very near. God is outside the human realm . His essence is unknown and can be be known but we can contact him through the names that is we in his image not him in our image. God is oppen to all humans through the spirit and it is against his generosity to confine him in one human image. God is as we said is not human that is why Islam against giving the traits of the humans whether father or son or daughter or wife to him. He is the light of heaven and earth that has no comparable and no associates. It is no longer our association with the prophets but our connection to him directly through aligning the vibrations of our soul with his spirit and his spiritual world without forgetting protecting ourselves from the negative spirits that are filling our unhappy world.

Bruce Charlton said...

"The Masters told me that spiritual truth is simple. "

I too am inclined towards an ego-driven over complexity. But the truths that we can truly-grasp are simple.

I found this even in science - in science we must get deep enough to find simplicity - the scientific ideas themselves must be simple, or else we do not really understand them. The great scientists all saw this - is is the mediocre and fake scientists who are happy with complexity.

wrt God we can know what we need to know: which is that God is creator, good (as we Men understand good), and loves us individually as would an ideal parent.

But we know this simple reality only because of the simple reality of Jesus - I don't believe that the Old Testament Jews understood God in this simple and correct way - and they imputed to him all sorts of sub-human, non-good attributes and attitudes.

William Wildblood said...

Thanks for your thoughtful comment Abdul (if I may) – though I could have done with a paragraph or two! Back in the day when I was exploring the scriptures of all religions I have to say that I found the Koran the least ingratiating. People say it reflects the harsh desert environment of Saudi Arabia and that it was a large spiritual step forward from the pagan Arab religions of the time, both of which I’m sure are true. But still I found it legalistic and authoritarian. And yet Islamic art has produced some truly beautiful work, and Sufism, as I say, is a profound mystical path which has produced great saints, but I do consider that is because it is leavened with outside spiritual influences.

You are, of course, right that Christians and Jews have not lived up to the truths of their religions. Everyone has fallen short, and my feeling anyway is that we must all move on to a higher understanding of the central reality of religion which for me is summed up in the figure of Christ. But we are called to become like him in relation to the Father not just follow him.

I like your remark that “God’s essence is unknown ….. but we can know him through the names, basic among them life, knowledge. will, ability to execute, speech, generosity and harmonious balance”. I think we can eventually know God but, of course, we can never full plumb his depths which are inexhaustible.

Anonymous said...

BC - "But we know this simple reality only because of the simple reality of Jesus - I don't believe that the Old Testament Jews understood God in this simple and correct way - and they imputed to him all sorts of sub-human, non-good attributes and attitudes."

Yes. I think that God cannot be experienced fully by human beings, otherwise we would be absorbed in Him. We know God at some remove, and using the analogy of a radio, we often hear Him through the crackle of a crystal set, and not through digital purity. So the message is heard imperfectly. When the ego is present, the message may be more than imperfectly understood, it may be changed to suit our prejudices, and our material aims. The OT is, I think, full of this, as I believe is the Qu'ran. Both cite God calling for death and destruction, I think in both cases, because of ego driven aims for material success in the material world. The gospels and Acts hardly at all, because Christ is central, and His presence makes the message one of pure love. And where is the violence or hate in pure love? Nowhere of course. The rest of the NT is filtered through the mind of Paul, and subject to the crackly radio effect, somewhere between a crystal set and digital radio. Trueish, but not as true as the gospels and Acts. A notable exception to the radio effect is, I think, the gospel of John. Yes, it is filtered through a human mind, but it is the mind of a truly spiritual person, and God's love comes through with great strength. No crackle.

William Wildblood said...

A big tick to all that especially the remark about St John's gospel.

Edwin said...

Whenever I open the Bible, it is always to read something from the 13th to the 17th chapter of John's Gospel. Sometimes, a single line is enough and I have to close the book to take it in. This is not to discount the value of other texts, but there is nothing that puts one in touch with truth and love more than these sublimely beautiful chapters. It is telling that many scholars seem to make it a point to attack the historicity of John's Gospel and to set it aside from the rest of the New Testament as the theological speculation of an individual. There is something in John that threatens the whole enterprise of sitting in judgment on the New Testament (and Christianity) as a merely historical development. It is ironic that historicity is used as a weapon to discount the real presence of the living Christ in the Fourth Gospel. Of all the sacred texts in the world, there is nothing that can compare to it. It takes us as far as words can to raise us toward the reality of Christ and of our own nature.

William Wildblood said...

Yes, I agree with that. I once heard the fourth gospel described as the living words of St John, and if any words do carry the quality of spiritual life it is surely these. John was the one disciple who understood the inner reality of Jesus and what that meant. As Peter was the disciple responsible for the outer church, its establishment and maintenance, so John is the hierarch of inner Christianity.

Abdulmonem Othman said...

Thanks you William and all. I can say with surety I belong to the school of John. Ibn Arabi said I entered the abode of god through the door of Jesus. There is nothing strange when we know the One who made the masters and made their memories alive for those who want to pursue the same path to Him. God is not a historical figure like His prophets to show us the never stopping evolution nature of god words. We are living in a non-prophets time where each human has to engender his inner resource, that is to mobilize the prophetic inside to expose and participate in the expansiveness of the divine knowledge which is the source of all humans knowledge from Adam and beyond. We have to realize that we do no belong to the masters but to the One who have endowed upon them the gift of mastery. It is a tricky time with the avalanche release of all these negative and positive energies that demand our readiness to benefit from the positive and protect our selves from the negative. We are creatures under trial who have been told about the angelic positive energies and the demonic negative ones in order to orient ourselves to the situation.One Sufi was asked, how have you come to know god, he answered through the paradoxes and recited the names of the first and the last the seen and the unseen the wrathful and merciful. It is how to overcome the duality by silencing the negative voice and let the love flourish. Open to god and then you will not need others voices that is not to say not to benefit from other truthful voices. I am happy I have found you William and your group.


William Wildblood said...

I think when you say we have "to mobilize the prophetic inside to expose and participate in the expansiveness of the divine knowledge " you have hit the nail on the head. Yes, that is just what we are called to do in these days, always remembering, of course, that Satan can present himself as one of the prophets, both outside and within ourselves. Many have fallen in trying to realise the God within but ending up with a little spiritual knowledge and an inflated ego.

And, yes, we have to know God in both his wrathful and his merciful aspects because if we focus on only one side of this complementary duality then we will know that side only in its human aspect, not its divine one in which the two are always together.

Anonymous said...

I am sure you are aware of Steiner's lecture on the gospel of John, and the claim that reading it aright, and holding its word in one's thoughts leads the reader through the descent into bodily form, birth, death and resurrection of Christ, so that the reader becomes like Christ, and is elevated into full spiritual awareness. It is almost as though Steiner attributes qualities of a grimoire to the gospel - change taking place because of a magical effect of the deep meaning of words on a person's soul. This elevates the gospel of John to perhaps the most important book ever written. A key to successful theosis.

http://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/19061127p01.html



Anonymous said...

I have just found a book online published in June 2017 - 'Ecclesiology and Theosis in the Gospel of John' by Andrew J Byers. It is a hardback and the list price is £75, but it can be got for £60 on Amazon UK. Here is a link:

http://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/religion/biblical-studies-new-testament/ecclesiology-and-theosis-gospel-john?format=HB#contentsTabAnchor

I feel led to this point, and believe I am supposed to read it. These feelings are never just 'one of those things' that 'happen'. I'm certain they are meant.

Anonymous said...

Ha! Just found a link to AJ Byers's doctoral thesis,

"Johannine Theosis: The Fourth Gospel's Narrative Ecclesiology of Participation and Deification"

http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/10908/

William Wildblood said...

No, I hadn't heard of that Steiner lecture. St John's Gospel is certainly one of the most important books ever written but I'm not sure that reading anything, even that, has quite the magical powers that Steiner attributes to it. It can certainly be an enormous help to opening up one's spiritual understanding but the process of transformation is a bit more demanding than that I'd say. Still there is certainly something very powerful in St John's writings.

Anonymous said...


I'm not so sure I'd dismiss Steiner on this. After all, great writing, and music for example have the power to cause intense feelings, of agitation, happiness, anger, or calmness, etc. Religious chanting in all cultures is supposed to open up the chanter to the spiritual, and so why couldn't the words in a book, written down by a great spirit, achieve a connection between the reader, and the spiritual reality from whence the writer sourced the truth. Perhaps the words, as the outer manifestation of 'real think', somehow help the divine spark to open and flower, and send out messages to the spiritual reality, and the spiritual reality sends messages back. Perhaps the gospel of John can work on a person's crystal set, and help make it into the spiritual equivalent of something NASA have invented.

Sorry about the use of analogy, but it seemed the best way of trying to explain what I mean, even though it

William Wildblood said...

oh, i'm not dismissing Steiner or belittling the gospel's power at all, and I agree with what you say in your last comment. It's just this bit I had reservations about.
"the reader becomes like Christ, and is elevated into full spiritual awareness." This seems rather extreme even for something as elevated as St John.

And, of course, all depends on the person reading. The degree to which the gospel can transform depends on the degree of the person's innate spiritual awareness.