A Great Reawakening
My last post on this topic left unanswered the question: Do we have adequate weaponry in our spiritual armory to fight this enemy? The enemy possesses a self-righteous zeal born of overweening spiritual self-confidence. Can the West muster the spirituality to counter the mortal evil of its foes?
America is the most religious and spiritual of the advanced Western nations. Although Orthodox Secularism is ascendant in the permanent federal bureaucracy, the media, and academia, average Americans believe in God and attempt to live life accordingly.
Recently there has been research that shows that those that attend religious services are healthier than those that do not. Observant individuals live longer, suffer less from chronic diseases and recover more rapidly from serious surgery. They also have a more positive attitude toward living.
Given this information, out of self-interest, a rational person would believe in God. But rationality seems to lead people away from religion to the Church of Orthodox Secularism. After all, some of the tenets of the major religions, as revealed in their scriptures, run contrary to modern science and reason.
So reason is not the vehicle for awakening faith; people are converted not by argument, but by experience. St. Paul was not convinced not by the arguments of Jesus’ disciples, whom he zealously persecuted, but by being struck blind, knocked off his horse, and later healed miraculously. Elijah convinced witnesses of his authority by calling down fire to consume the holocaust. Prince Gautama thought and travelled and discoursed and discussed, but the light never came to him until he sat down under the bo tree and simply awakened. As Walt Whitman wrote:
Hurrah for positive science! long live exact demonstration!
…Gentlemen, to you the first honors always!
Your facts are useful, and yet they are not my dwelling,
I but enter by them to an area of my dwelling.
Part of the problem is childhood’s conflation of God with the image of The-Old-Man-With-A-White-Beard-Sitting-On-A-Throne-In-The-Clouds. An intelligent person will, without even thinking about it, reject the idea of God when it carries with it such atavistic mental baggage. As a child grows up and abandons his belief in Santa Claus, so does the thoughtful person grow up and surrender his childish idea of God. Unfortunately, all too often, our culture leaves him with no coherent replacement.
This phenomenon is exacerbated by the reliance of established religion on scripture. Even without being fundamentalist, even without requiring that the believer accept every word in the Bible as literal truth, established religion, by working through scripture, tends to channel thought into a mindset that is two millennia out of date. This is a conundrum which cannot be easily solved, since abandoning scripture would leave only individual revelation to guide the believer, producing a Faith of All Against All.
And yet there was a time before scripture. Whatever the eternal verities might be, they were there before the first Hebrew scribe borrowed glyphs from the Phoenicians and recorded their experience of the Word of Yahweh; these verities will still be true æons from now when the sun gutters out. Though the scripture itself is likely to be fallible and flawed, since it was written down by fallible and flawed humans, nonetheless, the underlying verities remain.
Perhaps it is this freezing of belief in scripture that has stilled the voice of revelation within the human heart. In the last six centuries our conception of what it means to be human in the created Cosmos has changed so drastically that the received wisdom of the Holy Books can hardly speak to us about the nature of the universe.
But suppose, just suppose, a new revelation could somehow come into the world, the world as it exists now at the dawn of the 21st century. Imagine a revelation that could speak to the whole of interconnected humanity, one that could withstand the scrutiny of modern science. What form would this awakening take?
Intuition tells us that it would have to be experienced as a fulfillment and extension of some, if not all, of the existing major religions, in the same way that many Jews of the first century could adopt Christianity as a fulfillment of their faith, or that Hindus of the sixth century B.C. could become followers of the Buddha. It would have to available to the whole world, and not just a single tribe, province, or region. It would have to encompass all that modern science accepts as true; after all, the Bible included all the science of its time. A new awakening would address the sensibilities of intelligent secularists, their understanding of what is important, of what is right and wrong, and of the place of human intelligence in the larger scheme of things.
Above all, it would be true. People do not adopt fervent religious beliefs because they are logical, or because they know them to be in their own interests; they come to them because they are completely, unequivocally, and obviously true.
Everyone has a religious belief, whether he is aware of it or not. Every person has a faith of some sort, a set of premises about the nature of reality and his position in it. An absolute atheist has absolute faith in the non-existence of God; minimally, an indifferent secularist believes that the world existed before him and will continue after him, and he believes in a reality beyond the bounds of his senses.
Imagine a colorblind man who says, “I don’t believe in this ‘blue’ you’re always talking about. Sure, there are different wavelengths of light, but there’s no such thing as ‘blue'”. How could he be refuted? There is no way to prove him wrong, but the truth of “blue” does exist; I know that it exists, because I have experienced it as “blue”.
Mathematics begins with assumptions — including both postulates and theorems based on previous proofs — and performs operations on them using a set of shared rules, proving new theorems. Thus, a mathematician starts by defining his terms. Rather than prove the existence of God, we will define Him:
1. Given that I exist, and
2. that other entities exist besides me, and
3. that there are sets of entities in this cosmos which are larger than I am, then
4. God is defined as the largest of all such sets, one which includes all the elements of all the others.
The necessity of proving the existence of God is therefore obviated, and theological mathematicians can then spend centuries deducing His other attributes.
In fact, as a corollary to Gödel’s Theorem, the existence of God cannot be proved, nor can God be understood. A complete description or proof of a consistent and coherent system cannot exist within that system. Our mathematics and logic tell us that belief in the existence of God must remain an act of faith.
Not everyone has to be struck blind on the road to Damascus in order to come to faith in God. God exists for me because He is immanent in every moment and every particle of the world around me; I wake every morning to His photons passing through the windows of my eyes, and every night I pillow my head on His darkness to enter the underside of His conscious cosmos. No argument can dissuade me from this knowledge, and nothing can take it away from me.
To quote Whitman again,
And I say to mankind, Be not curious about God,
For I who am curious about each am not curious about God,
(No array of terms can say how much I am at peace about God and about death.)
I hear and behold God in every object, yet understand God not in the least,
Nor do I understand who there can be more wonderful than myself.
Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe’er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever.
The world that reveals itself to our senses and our understanding is the process of God unfolding. According to the Bhagavad Gita:
Brahman is the ritual,
Brahman is the offering,
Brahman is the one who offers to the fire that is Brahman.
When one sees Brahman in every action,
That person will find Brahman.
When we in the West awaken to the process, we will find our place in it, and our place is the struggle against an evil manifested in the world. It is, to quote President Bush, “the calling of our time”.