As a blogger, often about ‘matters religious’, I’m prompted to ask myself, what does religion now mean for me? Its most significant meaning is no longer an institutional one. I was once the minister of a church with several hundred attenders. Having a ‘way with words’, spoken as well as written, I enjoyed the experience of ‘preaching the word’, and others seemed to enjoy that too. I recall times of preparation when my pen could hardly keep up with the flow of ‘inspiration’, and times when the congregation and I were palpably ‘in tune’ with one another. Someone once likened it to a corn field moving in correspondence with the wind that blew across it (I hope the word ‘wind’ was kindly meant). I have many good memories of these distant years.
I’m not now a member of any religious organisation. If someone were to ask me if I’ve “lost my faith”, I’d say that I’ve ‘changed my faith’. So what do I ‘believe’ in?
I believe in a transcendent reality beyond the material reality I live in from day to day. I don’t believe that I’m nothing more than a cog in a mindless, cosmic machine, and that every aspect of my daily life and being is totally determined by the laws of physics. That may, nonetheless, be the case, but I choose not to believe so.
This isn’t because I’m afraid of the inevitability of death. I see nothing terrifying about non-existence which, to me, suggests deep, dreamless sleep – the ultimate ‘long lie’. Great philosophers like Emmanuel Kant have demonstrated to my satisfaction that my access to the whole of Reality is restricted by my human limitations, and that there’s more there than ‘meets my eye’. I believe I can experience the ‘transcendental other’, in meditation, in great poetry and music, in the natural world, in the brain-busting magnificence of the cosmos, and (to the bewilderment of some perhaps) in the archetypal themes of the great bible stories, and many of the hymns I still, even 40 years later, know by heart, and in which I find meaning beyond the literal. This may be illusory, or it may not.
I don’t believe that consciousness is a chance by-product of the complexity of the human brain. Immaterial consciousness is utterly, categorically different from material tissue. To say that the smell of a lilly suddenly appears out of inert matter, is reminiscent of the genie suddenly emerging from Aladdin’s lamp. I find it intriguing that people who would ordinarily deny the existence of miracles, are somehow happy to swallow that one, for fear of allowing any hint of the transcendent the least toehold in the door. It makes more sense to me that consciousness or, in its most basic form ‘awareness’, is built into the bricks of the cosmos. The outside of mind is matter, the inside of matter is mind. As the song says, ‘you can’t have one without the other’. In the beginning was Mind.
So I consider it valid to believe in a transcendental reality which (though not a ‘person’ made in an enlarged image of ourselves) is the source of intelligence and design, of language and emotions, and of a sense of ‘self’ which has emerged from, and will return into, the single great web of Being which unites all people and all things.
I don’t speak to that ‘reality’, nor does it to me, but I am content to be part of it. I liken it to the ocean, which can be blessedly serene and scarily stormy, both of which contribute to its magnificence. I’m like a drop of spray, flung for a time into the air and carried by the wind in an unpredictable journey, to fall back at last into the ocean from which it came. It is in this sense, that the buddhist, as well as christian part of me can say, All is well. All has ever been well. All will always be well.