Thursday, May 26, 2016

The God Delusion

- dawn in the desert -

As I sat in my office yesterday I happened to notice the title of one of the books on my shelves written a while back by the now-famous atheist Richard Dawkins. In his book, The God Delusion, Dawkins ridiculed religious definitions of “God” as “false and delusional”- nothing more than ideas concocted by human beings.   

Yesterday as I re-read some passages from Dawkins' book,  it struck me that even though I am a “person of faith,” I sort of agree with some of what Dawkins had to say. While I do not think “God” is a delusion,” I do think that many believers are probably “delusional”  if they are convinced that the words they use to talk about “God” are actually descriptions of who or what “God” really is.

The fact is that all our words about God are human inventions. From the stories told to children about a “God” who is a superman in the sky controlling the world to the volumes of advanced systematic theologies taught in seminaries and universities, all our words and ideas “about” God are, in essence, little more than feeble attempts to understand and know that which cannot be known or ever understood.

Over the ages, the great mystics and the most celebrated theologians of all religious traditions have essentially agreed that “talk” about God never really explains “God.”  The Sufi poets, Hebrew mystics, great Christian saints like John of the Cross, well-respected theologians like Augustine have essentially asserted that the only thing about “God” that is sure and certain is that those who claim to be sure and certain they know who God is, don’t know who God is - and the more sure you are, the less you really know.

I often tell the story of someone who was perhaps the greatest theologian of the Western Christian Church,Thomas Aquinas, who in the 13th century, wrote so many volumes of theology that his books could barely fit in a room. As the story goes, as Aquinas lay on his death-bed, some of his secretaries asked what they should do with all his treasured books, his life-work?   He waved a dismissive hand and said something like, “I don't care what you do with them, they are nothing but a pile of straw.” This esteemed theologian fully understood that his work was not to be taken all that seriously. They were a collection of ideas he composed over the years to help “get at” something of the great unknowable mystery we call “God.”

Yesterday as I browsed the books in my office, I also noticed that right next to Dawkins’ God Delusion, was a book of theological essays.  One particular article struck me as especially insightful:

Over the years religions of various sorts
have argued endlessly and disgracefully with one another.
But what if a Christian sat down and said,
‘Well actually I do not know much about God,
and everything I do say is so inadequate as to be false.’

Then a Jew or a Muslim might also say,
‘It’s funny you should say that,
I do not know much about God either.’

How could they then have an argument?
And if they did have an argument, the winner might be the one
who proved that he knew less about God than his opponent.

The desert where I live is a place of great mystery. For me, the most mystical and transcendent time of day happens at dawn as the sun rises over the eastern mountains and the sky explodes in shades of red and gold. At dawn the emptiness of the desert seems so abundantly full and the silence more thunderous than ever. This morning  as I sat in the silence, I embraced the emptiness of the great unknowable Mystery and uttered this ancient Sufi prayer:

You are the All – without beginning or end.
You are the One – incomparable, without measure.
You are without limit and beyond understanding.
You are everywhere and in everything.
You are GOD - beyond the beyond.

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