My Religion

In my seventy-seventh year of life, I’m still asking myself what the word “God” means. Long ago, as a conservative evangelical minister, I felt sure I knew the answer, but no longer. Perhaps this is why I love the music of Gustav Mahler. The conductor, Bruno Walter, who was close to him, was once asked about the difference between Mahler’s music, and that of his contemporary Bruckner. Bruckner’s music, he said, expressed the belief that he’d ‘found’ God, whereas Mahler’s expressed his lifetime’s search.

I tend to avoid using the word “God”, except in inverted commas, because it can mean anything from nothing, to a multitude of different things, depending on who’s using it and in what context. So what’s my ‘religion’ currently? I’d say that it’s ‘Transcendence’. What I mean is that I’m not satisfied with the idea that physicalism, or scientific materialism, is the end of the story. 

This doesn’t mean I’m anti-science. My bookshelves give the lie to that. I think any religious view that takes no account of evolution, relativity and quantum physics is decidedly impoverished. I’m with Einstein in his view that “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Einstein’s “God”, of course, was that of the philosopher Spinoza.

In my ‘religion’ there’s a ‘dimension’ beyond the ‘material’ one of space and time. The philosopher Kant’s view was that ‘space’ and ‘time’ are simply a framework enabling our minds to make sense, for us, of whatever it is ‘out there’ that’s fundamentally ‘real’. Einstein showed us that what we call ‘space’ expands and contracts, and that ‘time’ slows and speeds up. Quantum physics tells us that matter is essentially ‘immaterial’, and that ‘entangled particles’, even if at opposite sides of the universe, ‘communicate’ instantaneously, which makes a nonsense of our established ideas about time and space. To paraphrase Hamlet, there are indeed “more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of” in our philosophies or religions.

So what’s the nature of this “Transcendence” beyond our space and time? For me, it’s to do with what we call Mind, and therefore Information and Design. But that’s as far as I can go. Before the days of mountain climbing, there would’ve been Greeks who believed literally the stories of the gods of Mount Olympus. Likewise, multitudes have taken literally the stories of the gods in Shamanism, Hinduism, Judaism, Christianity, Sikhism, Islam etc. To me, these are all what Joseph Campbell has called the various “Masks of God”. What lies behind these masks is ‘real’ but essentially inconceivable, and therefore literally indescribable. 

I think the Buddha was wise in refusing to answer any questions about “God”. It’s pointless and profitless to talk about that which is beyond any and all words. It’s better by far to seek to learn how to live as usefully and positively as we can, with ourselves and one another, trusting ourselves to the ‘Transcendent Mind’ at the heart of things, and believing that, “All will be Well”.  

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