Thursday, 1 October 2009

Giving up "knowing" as a religious position

"Either there is a god or there isn't." Sounds straightforward, doesn't it! No one is going to argue with that, are they!

If you do a google search on the exact phrase "Either there is a god or there isn't." (you have to put quotes around it to search for the exact phrase), you will find there are approximately 17,900 web pages on Google's index that contain that exact phrase.

Seemingly a statement of the obvious, a statement that surely must be "true", cannot not be true. A statement akin to a whole category of statements that sound straightforwardly tautological... Either I am sitting on a chair or I am not sitting on a chair. Either I am typing at my keyboard or I am not typing at my keyboard. Either it is Thursday 1st October, or it is not Thursday 1st October. Logicians will probably say "Either X or Not X."

How can such a statement of either/or (either X or not X) fail to be true?

Even so over the last 100 years, scientists have got used to the idea that the universe may not be so simple. Electromagnetic radiation notoriously behaves both as though it is a particle phenomenon AND as though it is NOT a particle phenomenon. Both as though it is a wave phenomenon AND as though it is NOT a wave phenonmenon. Quantum mechanics further leads us to conclusions like that we necessarily can NOT know for certain whether various physical properties are the case or are not the case. The nature of the universe is such that it is impossible for us to know for certain, we can only know within a range of probability. Before we open the box, Schrodinger's cat is BOTH alive AND dead. How very unsettling is that.

Now I have a suspicion, that the nature of God is at least as unnowable as the nature of the universe. That at the very least. Possibly god is more unknowable than the nature of the universe, but I would guess that she is certainly at least that unknowable.

Perhaps God is nothing like we suppose she is, and being nothing like we suppose she is, it is unfair on her for us to even refer to her as God. Unfair because that makes it sound like we know what we're talking about.

I have a suspicion that we SO do NOT know what we're talking about, when we talk about god, that we should do our utmost to not make it sound like we do. What would that sound like? How would it be to speak about god in that way?

I am suggesting not only that we give up knowing what the answer is, but that we give up knowing what the question is. In fact that we simply give up knowing period.

This is different from agnosticism. The word agnostic at least has been used to label people who feel that we cannot know for sure the answer to various fundamental questions about the nature of the universe, and our relationship with God.

When I recommend that we give up knowing, I am suggesting something much more radical than this. I am suggesting that we give up the whole domain of Knowing as a mode of operating with respect to spiritual endeavour. I am suggesting that knowing is not useful in the domain of the spiritual.

By contrast lets suppose that we did know. How would that help us? Lets suppose the argument was over and everyone agreed about the nature of God/god/nogod. How would that make anything better? I suppose we wouldn’t be able to fight about it anymore, but probably we would just be fighting about something else. When you actually start to examine and get down into the nature of religious fighting, what you discover is that the people fighting are people who want to be fighting, and they have chosen God/god/nogod as their subject to fight about. Equally though, other people who like fighting choose to make their arena the Arsenal vs. Spurs match (football if you aren’t from the UK), or who can bag the most land or oil or diamonds or drugs.

When you look at it, what actually has knowing done for us w.r.t. spirituality? What has knowing been useful for? Has it provided any benefits to anyone, and if so who and what were those benefits? In the exterior objective realm, knowing is obviously very useful and provides enormous benefits to everyone.

Couldn't it possibly be a mistake to think the interior collective and interior individual realms would be equally susceptible to knowing as a useful mode of exploration. I would suggest that in the interior collective and interior individual realms NOT knowing is actually more productive.

Are we able as a community to raise ourselves up to the level at which we openly acknowledge and explore the realm of not knowing w.t.f. is going on in the universe. We don’t know, and we don’t know and we don’t know. There is a mystery at the heart of being; why is there anything rather than nothing? We simply don't know. We don’t have an f-ing clue and when we pretend to the children that we do we are simply lying to try to protect them from the truth. The truth is that we don’t know. The truth is that we haven’t got a steaming pile of pooh of a clue. Can we as community raise ourselves up to the level of celebrating our collective ignorance? This is the question that counts.

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