Thursday, September 23, 2010

God = x

I recently got involved briefly in another of those interminable ‘how many angels can dance on the head of a pin’ type of futile argument/discussions…about whether atheists using the word ‘probably’ in their slogans sounds like a stupid attempt at placating those they actually hope to ‘convert’ or ‘debrief’.

There probably is no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

I remain a hard-liner in that I have no need of the concept of a Creator, but I don’t feel like a zealot. I have no desire to stop people believing nonsense, if it keeps them happy (although I do quibble about it when it seems to make them miserable, scared, vicious, etc).

foma - harmless untruths; lies that, if used correctly, can be useful. Bokononism.

"Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy."

I, however, prefer a sublime indifference to beliefs I don’t even begin to understand.

Julie mentioned the other day that most of the disagreements disappear if you replace the word ‘God’ with the word ‘Nature’, and I know what she means, but it doesn’t completely work for me. I have felt the same way since when I first came across Taoism (in my teens) and finally thought I had come across a group of people who saw things the same way as myself – describing that final ‘unity’ as a mystery, not only that can never be described except with inadequate labels, but never truly ‘known’.

The Tao that can be described in words is not the true Tao.

Only later did I discover in the Western tradition that several Gnostic sects had taken the same approach – that any attempt to describe or understand the source or ground of being appears doomed to failure. ‘God’ as remote and ineffable. The Unknown God.

I acknowledge one great invisible God, unrevealable, unmarked, ageless and unproclaimable

And in fact if everyone used the word to mean that, then I wouldn’t see any problem with it. Unfortunately, it is what Korzybski called a multi-ordinal (word with multiple meanings) which can lead to all kinds of misunderstandings.

I can never even work out whether people who use the word imply ‘God is love’ (trust that a benign higher being has a plan and a purpose for you) or ‘God is very strict – a firm but fair father’ (the god-fearing person as the ideal human), etc.

The Church of God the Utterly Indifferent appears in Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan.

And why a father and not a mother?

So anyway. Many of these discussions would vanish if we simply used the word to mean the completely unknowable, rather than assuming some kind of conscious being can ever be found or contacted. It would then seem obvious why religious people think of much science as somehow blasphemous or pointless - trying to explain the ultimately (by definition) unexplainable.

God moves in mysterious ways

If we treat the word ‘God’ as just a marker for something we don’t know at the moment, as in algebra we use ‘x’, then we leave it open that we may ‘solve’ the equation at some point, although it seems likely that we may end up with the kind of odd results that led mathematicians to have to describe and accept ‘imaginary numbers’, ‘irrational numbers’, and other curious outcomes.

Accept the Mystery

I doubt that we can ever ‘solve’ what people mean by God to some simple answer, especially if we use the label to describe the Great Unknown – Tao – Process – Nature.

Update: Friday 24th September - the influence of my Theosophical father must not be ignored, so I guess it might intrigue you to read this lecture from Stephan Hoeller, from 2003, which clarifies the Gnostic belief system, and myths as educational tools, and much more (including, perhaps, my own antagonism to the established church). I mentioned a lot of this (and more) in a post to this blog, from 2004, called Follow Your Bliss.


KVA said...

I suppose we have the same outlook. While I'm a bit more zealous, I don't go out of my way to start arguments with bible-thumpers.

Cool Blog

Chris Hughes said...

"that any attempt to describe or understand the source or ground of being appears doomed to failure. ‘God’ as remote and ineffable. The Unknown God."

Makes a nonsense of theology, doesn't it? The study of the unstudiable...

@KVA : I think that atheist folk almost never start the argument, it's almost always in response to some proselytising twit trying to unload his/her nosnsense on you.

Toby said...

@KVA I certainly didn't intend this post as a way to start an argument with anyone, I was just musing on language (as ever).

I continue to try to find ways of understanding any value in such language, such an approach to the world, such belief systems (BS).

Like Chris, I have no use for God...but he/sheeit seems terribly popular!

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