Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Mystic atheist & theologian

Mysticism is the direct experience of what we call God. Children experience it. Persons of every possible age, place, and condition feel it. Philosophers and theologians in the past felt it and wrote and spoke about it, and in some cases their expressions of the transporting experience birthed new religions or spiritual movements, or just added to the fund of thinking in a certain religion. Christianity has had many such, Thomas Aquinas, for instance.

The apostle Paul was a mystic. His mystical experience with the crucified Jesus produced the new religion of Christianity.

Mystical experience is universal, which is why atheists experience it and might go so far as to use words like “grand” and “mysterious” if they shy away from “spiritual.” Rare is the atheist today who recognizes his or her experience as a cousin of Christian piety, though that’s what I think it is.

Jesus of Nazareth was a mystic who strove to console his needy fellows—the poor, the lowly, those who hunger and thirst, the peacemakers, and the persecuted—by connecting them with this inner experience, turning their attention to the mysterious, invisible realm within, which supersedes the everyday world we have to live in. Thus the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 3-10).

So how can someone as intensely aware of the inner reality as Comte-Sponville (see previous posts) disbelieve in God? He clearly directs his disbelief at the theistic god, the man-like individual. He refers to “a God,” to a “subject” he can’t believe in, and he writes this: “ . . . to believe in Someone! . . . the God of Abraham and Jacob, the God of Jesus or the God of Mahomet—is what I personally do not believe in.”

I also don’t believe in the god that many adherents of these religions imagine, and neither do thoughtful Jews/Christians/Muslims. The esteemed Catholic theologian Karl Rahner writes,
. . . the mysterious and incomprehensible . . . can never be defined by being distinguished from something else. For that would be to objectify it, to understand it as one object among other objects, and to define it conceptually.
Rahner’s “object” is Comte-Sponville’s “subject,” and the two agree that this imagined object/subject does not merit belief.

It thrills me that these thinkers, one an atheist philosopher, the other a Catholic theologian, both insist on this fundamental realization—God is not an individual alongside other individual things and persons in the universe. This is what distinguishes God from a god.

Rahner quotes the terms “absolute being” and “ground of being.”
Comte-Sponville writes of being confronted with “the mystery of being.”
Rahner writes, “The infinite horizon . . . opens us to unlimited possibilities.”
Comte-Sponville writes, “We are finite beings who open onto infinity.”
A Hindu writer in Parabola glories in the “abundance of The Vastness.”

Vastness, Infinity, Eternity, Being, Void, Mystery, Energy, Force, Consciousness. These abstractions increasingly serve as synonyms for God among Christians whose ancient liturgy still exalts a god modeled on pagan deities. Christian belief is in flux. For more on this, go to my blog index and click on “God is not supernatural” under atheism.

2 comments:

ddjango said...

There are two beautiful sentences in this post, Jeanette:

"God is not an individual alongside other individual things and persons in the universe."

"God is not supernatural."

My chief complaint about many of my fellow "infidels" is that they say (1) there is no such thing as supernatural, then (2) therefore there is no God.

For a group which touts logic as its creed, making such an illogical argument is absurd. These atheists believe that if humans can't "know" or "explain" something with math, it doesn't exists. Such conceit.

Jeanette said...

Thank you. I work hard to find expressions that lay out common ground between believers who feel they have nothing in common.