"Shades of Gray"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -
I was very struck by a recent Op-Ed piece in the New York Times in which Columnist David Brooks suggested: "Either you believe in God or you don't." First of all, I very much disagree with this opinion, but my guess is that many people who read this probably thought he was quite correct - atheists as well as believers.
From my point of view, whenever you enter into the realm of belief in God, religion, theology or spirituality, you always find yourself in "both-and" rather than "either-or" territory. In the spiritual realm there is no black and white, only shades of gray.
I am reminded of something priest and author, Richard Rohr, once said:
All true spirituality has the character of paradox to it,
precisely because it is always holding together the "Whole" of reality.
I really agree with this wisdom and in my own case almost every single one of my deeper beliefs are essentially paradoxical - for example:
I do indeed both believe in God and I agree with the atheist-humanist disbelief in a divine being who is out there controlling what happens down here.
I both believe in the value of religion and I agree that religious beliefs and practices can get in the way of an authentic spirituality and that historically religion has, at times, done more harm than good on the world stage.
I both read the stories of the Bible as a source of strength and inspiration for my daily living and I agree with many of the atheist-humanist claims that the Bible is essentially a collection of legends and myths.
From my perspective, "God" is essentially a Great Riddle, an unknowable mystery, an Abiding Presence at the core of everting that is. From time to time, in the thin places of life, I experience that Holy Presence, but I can never explain it and I never think of God as some sort of separated superior super person. In that sense atheists and I both don't believe in the same imaginary being.
When it comes to religion, I find great value in being connected with my ancestors in a tradition of faith carried on over the ages. I also believe that being in relationship with other persons of faith strengthens me. However, I "only sometimes" go to church nowadays because I find that when I do the doctrine and the politics get in my way, so I also pursue a spiritual path informed by the wisdom of many traditions. In today's contemporary terminology I guess you could say that I am both spiritual and religious.
And yes, I do love the stories in the Bible and yes I think they are mostly legends and myths filled with metaphor and poetry - but that's the kind of language that is always used whenever we try to talk about great mysteries.
So, while my beliefs may appear to be paradoxical, I do not at all think that they contradict one another- that's what "both-and" thinking is all about.
Sorry Mr. Brooks. I think you may have missed the mark in your op-ed piece when you claimed that "You either believe in God or you don't."
St. John of the Cross, the celebrated 16th century monk and mystic described the spiritual path as a way that is walked in the "mysterious darkness of night" more than in the clear and certain light of day. He once said:
There is never more danger in stumbling
than when we think we know where we are going.
Listen to my podcast:"Desert Wisdom"