Saturday, October 24, 2009

Knowing or Unknowing?

Photo by a4gpa

I am reading Karen Armstrong's book, The Case for God. In it, she surveys people's understanding of and relationship to God over the ages and across different religious--and atheistic--traditions. Throughout the book runs the author's warning that we should not confuse God with idols of our own making. Going beyond what many monotheists would consider idols--lesser gods or statues of them, for example--and even beyond other insights as to what constitutes idols--money, power, fame, Armstrong illustrates how concepts of God can become idols.

She seems to criticize modern, literal readings of scriptures and the modern believer's impulse to prove the existence of God using science or argument (making the title of her book tongue-in-cheek, perhaps?). She calls into question the notion that we "know" God is good, great, exists, is on our side, etc. In what way do we know this? Does God exist like we exist; is God limited, then, by the same natural laws? If we can know all about God, does that diminish God?

Many religious people take classes to learn more about their faith and about God. I've taken classes that feel oddly empty, like I was getting information, but something spiritual was missing. I've taken other classes where I feel spiritually uplifted as I learn. Often, what I've found, is that if the attitude of the teacher and students is humble and open to surprises and wonder, then this Other something spiritual is there. If the teacher and students are arrogant and congratulate themselves on knowing everything while others know nothing, then I feel empty.

Can we only reach towards God in "the cloud of unknowing," as the 14th-century Christian book of that name suggests?

I have often felt that when I empty myself of anxieties and thoughts and assumptions, when I make a vacuum inside, then Something comes to fill it. But when I try to construct my own ideas, hanging thoughts and theories and creeds onto the framework, I end up with a tacky, overdone Christmas tree that falls over.

And yet, these frameworks are important; learning is important. I have a desire to know God, not just to unknow God.

I come to no final conclusion, just to the experience that beliefs and practices are a roadmap to follow, but we have to walk. And we can walk humbly, we can skip, we can listen to the birds singing; or we can torch the trees and pillage the houses and salt the earth we pass.

What happens if our fellow believers who walk the same path are the bad kind? Do we give up? Can we find another path? Maybe. Do we need to walk together or can we do it on our own?

All of these questions frustrate me. But maybe if I let them go, take a deep breath, and unknow, the answer will come to me. Or not. I'm not sure which is best.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thought-provoking post ... that's a book I'd really like to read myself. :)