I shall write as if there is no god. Or more to the point, I shall consider that the presence of god does not matter. Certainly if there is a God, then he is not diminished by my lack of faith, whether this was truly a lack, or merely one’s impression of me. At the same time, I do not wish to be taken for a vulgar atheist, who, for whatever reason, must denounce religions and the religious in the same manner the falsely pious denounce an unbeliever. (An aspect of piety, of course, is the ability to leave in God’s hand the work of judgment, since only an omniscient thing could judge.)
I have what I might call an compassion for the religious and more so the very pious and the sacred. In German the term is Mitgefühl, in my vulgar German I translate that as “feeling with” someone. Sometimes German has a poetry all its own. By compassion, then, I do not mean a sorrow, but a sharing in the feelings of joy and wonder in the face of the miracles of our shared and separate existence.
Even if we accept the vulgar reductionist fantasy that the entire world is reducible to simple laws of physics and hence our desire for meaning is merely a mistake in and of itself, the fact that my wife is at home packing for a camping trip, I am here watching bicyclists pass by, my child is sleeping and innumerable other things are happening – bacteria are dividing, words are being spoken, in my backyard last night’s refuse is being broken down into soil – it is really too much for a single mind to comprehend.
There ought to be a metaphor for the fact that beyond my limited comprehension, there are worlds upon worlds of things taking place. The idea of God is a good metaphor for the fact that beyond what I know must exist – in theory – does exist in reality and in a manner that I cannot simultaneously keep track of. God, being omniscient, is capable of such understanding, and one hopes, appreciation of the potentiality of the world and its creatures. (God may be more than a metaphor, it may be a necessity to the spinning orb we inhabit, to keep it in place its place, to keep the atoms and the quarks from misbehaving.)
There is a tendency amongst the religious, however, to prefer the artifacts of men to ineffable nature of God. Fundamentalism is perhaps the greatest instance of this error, which substitutes the tradition of men, and his well known and documented fallibility – whether or not one attributes this to Original Sin, or merely the evidence of our own eyes – for the only practical and logical religious position. That is, being limited by time and space, a single individual cannot know the infinite. The presumption that certain documents – the Bible, the Koran or any other sacred text– are works of God and not of men, is based solely upon the evidence and word, not of God, but of men.
Indeed, the only possible religious position is one of doubt, of acceptance – to a degree we will discuss – of man’s limitations. One does and cannot know God’s will, any more than one can conceive of a God outside our limited experience of the world. It may be that celebrations of God’s creation can uplift us, and let us taste, however incomplete, the magnificence of God’s creation. Anymore, however, is a presumption which is contradicted by the conception of God itself.
There is no reason why, and in fact it would only make more sense, that God composed a universe of energy and matter, with certain predictable properties – if they failed to be predictable then God could not have created them – with some end destiny in mind. One does not know. It is a simple as that. But there is no counterfactual arguments to the mystery of creation, only to the presumption that we should hold sacred the misunderstandings of humankind.
If this leaves us solely with doubt, then this is merely the starting point of knowledge. A place we can come to, again and again, and see the world in different and no less, true, yet limited perspectives.
Yet doubt is the only possible conclusion of the pious. One cannot know what one cannot know. But that we cannot know is not, in itself, a source of despair. It is, rather, our unreasoned belief that we can know that keeps us dancing about.
(Were we inclined to stop, it is only by ceasing to question what cannot provide an adequate answer. But to do so, to remain in repose, is of course, equally impossible. In the end the dance is our joy, our reason for living and our expression of the love of creation, which is God’s bounty. )