My Religious Paradigm (6) Summing Up

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In this series of posts, I’ve been trying to gather together my current thoughts about ‘God’. I say ‘current’, because I believe in keeping an open mind. My views, of course, are no more likely to be ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ than anyone else’s. As the apostle Paul pointed out, (though when in full dogmatic flow he seems to forget this), “Now we see a dim image in a mirror” – a ‘mirror’ because, being human, we picture God in our own image, and ‘dim’ because what is transcendental is beyond our ability to understand and describe.

The existence of God, summing up my previous posts, can neither be proved nor disproved, though Richard Dawkins makes a fair point that the onus is on the ‘prover’. ‘Sacred books’ cannot ‘prove’ God’s existence, being human productions limited by the worldviews and values of the archaic cultures in which they were compiled. Since it is a collection of all kinds of books, written over many centuries, the phrase “the Bible says” is as meaningless as “the Library says”. Libraries don’t say anything in particular since, in general, their contents will inevitably be inconsistent with, and contradict, each other. People find whatever they look for.

On the positive side, I’ve noted the presence of intelligence and design in the universe, which may perhaps give validity to the notion of some kind of ‘god’, but not the ‘traditional’ God who’s all knowing, all powerful and all good. The existence and sheer enormity of world suffering, surely rules out that kind of god. What remains, for me, is transcendental ‘Ground of Being-Itself’,which makes ‘God’ not so much a person as a process, but one that’s given rise to the laws of physics, the big bang and the evolutionary process that’s generated matter, life, consciousness, and personhood. The Ground of Being-Itself has become self-aware in us and, who knows, perhaps in other complex life-forms elsewhere in the universe.

But how can we “know” if this is so? We can use reason and logic, as above, but they have their limitations, as seen in the story about a barber in a certain town who only shaved men who didn’t shave themselves. The question is, who shaved the barber? If he didn’t shave himself, he did – and if he did shave himself he didn’t ! Last century, there were ‘Logical Positivists’ with a ‘verification principle’ which ruled out ‘religious’ thinking on the grounds that only assertions verifiable by observations or experience could convey factual information. Unfortunately for them, their ‘verification principle’ cannot itself be verified on these grounds. Oops!

In addition, but not in opposition, to reason and logic, there is intuition and imagination, which arguably give us the ability to ‘know’ things in a different way, inasmuch as they bridge the gap between the conscious and non-conscious aspects of our mind. Carl Jung’s ‘collective unconscious’, shared by all human beings, makes sense to me as the ‘reservoir’ that contains the archetypes, the ‘frameworks’ that we’ve clothed with our worldwide, ageless stories of creation, flood, father god, miraculous birth, madonna and child, the hero’s journey, the dying and rising god, angels and devils, dragon slayers, heaven and hell etc. etc.

From these come Michaelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”, Rio de Janeiro’s “Christ the Redeemer”, Milton’s “Paradise Lost”, Dostoevsky’s “The Brothers Karamazov”, T S Eliot’s “Murder in the Cathedral”, Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion”, Mahler’s “Resurrection Symphony”, and, of course, the four Gospels. Out of these transcendental, inter-personal depths, have come the archetypal images, symbols, pictures, situations, characters, themes, poems and stories which help us find meaning and value in our individual lives, our relationships with one another, and our with world and whatever transcends it.

Jung regarded the ‘God’ archetype, as well as all the others, as psychic ‘facts’, as meaningful in that respect as any other ‘facts’, and able to be ‘known’ by ‘intuition’ and explored in creative imagination. Whether or not such “knowledge” is valid is the question raised in the quote which concludes this post. We must all make up our own minds as to an answer. The bottom line is, however, that because there is a ‘God’ archetype, despite the efforts of today’s militant atheists, religion will continue to be with us, for better and worse, for as long as there are human beings on planet Earth.

6 responses to “My Religious Paradigm (6) Summing Up”

  1. Sacred books don’t seek to prove God’s existence. They are not works of philosophy so that is a category error. They do however present a meeting ground between human and transcendent. A curious bringing together here of qualities like reason and logic and “in addition” intuition and imagination. As many great writers and critics of our century have pointed out our problem today is one of “dissociation of sensibility”(Eliot’s phrase) not the kind of unity you want here rather mechanically to put together. D> H. Lawrence told Bertrand Russell in a letter he needed to become a baby again and in effect -and in much better language than mine- seek to redevelop his consciousness so imbalanced was it.. Some of us value an ancient work because it is written at a level from the Genesis myth on at a level where blood , mind, heart , spirit are working in togetherness. I also feel your reliance onJung’s collective unconsciousness is a bit automatic. When you illustrate with references to works of art you hand over the merit of the achievement to this notion. Dostoevsky was wrestling withe Russia of his time to produce Karamazov. You also mention the gospels but Jesus was another who was carrying his culture, fighting for his inspiration from it tooth and nail against the world of his time. This is analysable whereas your fallback on “collective unconscious” hardly is. You underplay that is cultural, historical and language influences and just simply bring in “collective unconscious” which seems to be a disparate mass of psychic influences which I dont deny, here and there but have to be disentangled and re-related to what we definitely know culturally. All in all a very detached stance as if to present a kind of private religion. Again a contradiction in terms as well as a category error. Religion has to do with following in a way in community, and stresses- at least Christianity does hope, faith(not Knowledge”) and charity-none of which puts in an appearance.

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    1. Thanks as always, Alan. I appreciate your interest in what I write, and herewith is my response.
      The category error is made by those by do indeed believe, and argue, that “sacred books … prove God’s existence”. It’s not one that I make.
      I don’t quite follow your logic when you question reason, logic, intuition and imagination being brought together (“mechanically” apparently, whatever that means, and however it’s evidenced), and then talk about the “problem … of dissociation of sensibility.” Bringing together would seem to be an answer to dissociation. As opposed to anything to do with ‘mechanics’, one of Jung’s major contributions is his exploration of the fluid dynamics of thinking, feeling, intuition and sensation in the human psyche, and the need to seek and find balance therein.
      To take a validly critical approach to ancient works is not to regard them as lacking in “value”. If I thought that, I wouldn’t have a bookshelf dedicated to the intellectual, emotional and spiritual impact of comparative mythology, including the biblical variety.
      I don’t know what you mean by my “reliance” on Jung’s collective unconscious” which is apparently “a bit automatic”. Are you a psychoanalyst in your spare time? I simply say that I think it gives us the helpful idea of an interpersonal reservoir of frameworks which creative people, using their experience of life, and of the history, language and culture in which they live, can clothe with the garments of their own intuition and imagination. To suggest that I “hand over the merit of their achievement to the collective unconscious” as such, is a complete misunderstanding and overstatement, which could be thought of as a “category error” on your part. I think your concept of the collective unconscious differs somewhat from Jung’s.
      What might also be regarded as a “category error” is your taking me to task in relation to what “religion has to do with” and how certain aspects thereof have “not put in an appearance” in what I’ve written. My series of posts has not been about religion in general, but about the very specific topic of the existence and nature of God. Once again, you seem to chastise me for not writing the post you would have written, instead of the quite different one I chose to write. Regards as ever.

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      1. No Ray.Comment on a reliance on a phrase-here and elsewhere- without further specific elaboration is not a form of psychoanalysis; it is simply reading what is and is not on the page. Here later on without answering the specific objections to the great works of art lumped to gether as developments from collective unconscious you do refer to fluidity which is certainly a lot better than the way in which you had presented the brain as if it had diverse departments-on for reason , one for logic and “in addition” (phrase not withdrawn)one for imagination and then intuition. Certainly in seeking to understand the development of consciousness from the womb onwards fluidity is a necessary word. for psychic development And of course the bringing together is not simply a matter of statement or willed intention. It is something to be lived into -as the D.H. Lawrence-Russell comment implied. OK I take your point. I had thought the “My Religious Paradigm ” .suggested something rather more ambitious than the cerebral philosophical argument you have restricted yourself to. When in a church I recite the creed however we do not say “I believe that God exists …” i say “I believe in God”-the metaphor means something.Be rational about religion if you wish, but let me know when you have something more important to say about it! This sounds perhaps a cheeky dismissal of your well intentioned work but you as well as I need criticism. Anyway I am putting together a series of posts, starting as a kind of response to your infancy narrative series.which may well bring out from you critical reactions: we shall see! ,

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        1. When, Alan, you “read what is on the page”, you are often, I think, *interpreting* what is on the page, and what you come up with, as far as I am concerned, is equally often “not on the page” at all, but in your own imagination.
          For example, where have I “presented the brain as if it has diverse departments”? These last two words are yours – where did I use them? You note that I refer to Jung’s “fluid dynamics”, but don’t seem to see that that opposes any notion of separate ‘departmentalisation’. I’m with Jung in thinking about different ‘aspects’ of the functioning of the psyche, not ‘departments’, which would be an obviously nonsensical notion.
          I haven’t ignored the “specific objections to the great works of art”. I quite agree with what you write, as I’d have thought would have been apparent when I wrote about the “interpersonal reservoir of frameworks which creative people, using their experience of life, and of the history, language and culture in which they live, can clothe with the garments of their own intuition and imagination”. The ‘archetypes’, though formative, are in themselves ‘insubstantial templates’, leaving the bulk of the work to be done by the creative artists themselves. 
          I sometimes think you have “cerebral” on the brain! I am a person of above average intelligence, deep feelings, and ‘awakened’ spirituality. I’m not the desiccated, cerebral, philosophical, calculating machine of your apparent imagination. As a buddhist with a small ‘b’, my spirituality goes far beyond rationality, but I don’t choose to say much about that, since it’s better felt than tell’t. What you regard as “important about religion” is, I think, different from what I do, but I’m happy to be where I am, and for you to be where you are, so let’s leave it at that.
          If one chooses to consider others of my recent posts, such as “One of the truly great stories of musical history” and “A Late Lark Singing”, these could hardly be regarded as “cerebral philosophical argument”, so there’s some hope for me yet! You wouldn’t, of course, I suspect, have much sympathy for the concluding paragraph of the second of these, but the world is big enough to accommodate both of us.
          I’m not writing to please you, Alan, but, as I’ve said, for a different audience, and, judging by my 80 odd followers, and the level of response to my posts, a fair number of them seem to find helpful meaning in what they read. It’s good that you’re going to write some posts about the infancy narratives. Rather than responding to me, just write your own thing in your own way. I won’t criticise your style of writing, or make assumptions about you on that basis, but may well give my own take on some of the points you choose to make. Warm regards as always.

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  2. Fair enough if you are going to continue to misread my comments, there is no point making them.

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    1. I’m sorry you feel that way, Alan. If you can point out to me exactly where I’ve misread your comments, I’ll be happy to acknowledge that. For my part, as you know, I think you often misread my comments, but that doesn’t stop me making them.
      Also, for my part, I refuse to allow a ‘difference of opinion’ to alter my thoughts and feelings about someone for whom I have both respect and regard. I’ll continue to offer responses to your posts, which you can acknowledge or ignore and, should you come to feel that there is point in offering responses to mine, I’ll be very happy to reply.
      In the meantime, my very best wishes to Isabel and yourself, for health and happiness.

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