Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Speaking up for the unknown and unknowable

All "belief" is a gamble - a best guess ... otherwise we would call it "knowledge", not belief. We would call it something I KNOW to be true, not something I BELIEVE to be true. It is because I don't know, that I am left choosing what I might like to believe or what I might enjoy believing. It is because collectively WE don't know, that WE are left choosing what we may like to believe or what we may enjoy believing together, or contemplating together, or meditating on together. Beliefs we can share with each other, like the warmth of our embrace around our family and friends and community.

You can, if you must, call this choosing to believe "delusional", but the alternative is to ignore the mystery or deny the mystery or to assert that there is no mystery. There is no mystery? ... I suppose it's plausible. But it doesn't seem very likely to me.

The requirement to bring belief or faith into play is because we don't know. If we did know, there would be no requirement for faith or belief.

It is because we don't know (we really don't know!)... priests don't know any more than scientists, and scientists don't know any more than priests. There is a mystery that lies at the heart of being. An unanswerable question... and NONE OF US KNOWS!

I'm not sure, but I tend to think that none of us know, certainly I don't know.

It is because we don't know that we are left with a choice to believe or not. However it is a choice, and much as Richard Dawkins would like to be able to make the choice for other people as well as himself, I don't think that is really his prerogative.

Certainly wise people may give helpful advice on what are better or wiser or happier or more fulfilling ways to make the choice, or better or wiser or happier choices to make.

But ultimately no one can make the choice for you, or force you to put your faith in a place where it does not feel at home.

Now there are kinds of spiritual knowledge such as experience of the interior realms which are quite possibly not a matter or faith or belief. These kinds of knowledge do not require faith or belief. They simply require introspection. If you believe the sages, there are tangible experiences to had in there, every bit as reproducible as the general relativistic observation that starlight is bent by passing through the curved space created by the gravitational field exerted by the mass of the sun. Quite possibly these kinds of introspective and intra-personal knowledge are the most useful and constructive type of spiritual practice and spiritual discipline. I'm investigating that... I'll post more in the future on how that turns out for me, or if it does.

But lets not confuse any of this knowledge - neither scientific knowledge of the exterior kind, nor spiritual knowledge of the interior kind, with the unfathomable mystery at the heart of being, and at the heart of being human. In the presence of that unfathomable mystery, no one can give you an answer. No one can tell you what you should or shouldn't believe. Possibly nothing. Possibly everything. Possibly anything. Possibly some one thing. The question is, when YOU look into the abyss, what do you see? And when we stand hand in hand and look together, what do WE see?

Of course believing in god is delusional, because that is the nature of belief. All belief is delusional in the sense that it is a guess. It is a response to not knowing.... WE DON'T KNOW. And we don't know. And we don't know. That's why we have to gamble and choose, take a gamble and guess... speculate, meditate, muse, ponder, listen to the mystery of being... or else leave the casino. We put all our chips on black to win. If we knew for certain black was going to come up, there would be no choice to make. The alternative to delusional belief, however, is simply to not play the game. Put down no bets. Walk away from the table. Leave the casino and go back to your hotel room. Risk nothing of yourself, or ourselves. Tell yourself that there is no roulette table really, or even if there is, that gambling is just for suckers. So the choice turns out to be a matter of taste, not a matter of fact. A choice to gamble or not. Risk maybe loosing everything, or winning a fortune. Or else not playing.

Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion is published by Mariner Books (2008) and Bantam Press (2006)

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