Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Not Knowing

I used to have a sign on my door at university that said 'I know only two things, the first is that there is a God, the second is that I am not him.' It came from a scene in the movie The Boondock Saints. The Priest was a doubting Thomas and was telling the person speaking to him that that was okay. This resonated with me at the time. I had become increasingly uncomfortable with some of the divisive issues in religion around the world. 

The Boondock Saints

My friend Phil (one of the Oozers) used to give me grief about it, saying I was wrong about both! Many believe that the idea of God is beyond our understanding. How we choose to grasp it is imperfect. The Yogis call it Ishvara. A way of fitting God into our understanding. Something we can verbalise and imagine, which is as close as we can get. Vedantic philosophy describes God (imperfectly) as Sat-chit-ananda meaning knowledge-existence-bliss. Basically everything. So Phil's argument was that there 'is a God' implies a separateness from me that is not there. This isn't just an Eastern idea. Two formative books for me in my late teens were 'Sophie's World' and 'Life of Pi'. Sophie discovers her name derives from Philosophy. Love of knowledge. That knowledge is the female personification of God. The personification of everything. This fit perfectly into my burgeoning feminist world view. Life of Pi showed a boy constantly discovering new truths in other people's stories.

There are actually three parts to the Boondock Statement. The first is 'I know only two things'. I have refined all three to the only conviction I have is that 'you can't know'. Rich challenges this in our ongoing discussion about faith. What about Rape/ Poverty/ Paedophilia as unacceptable things? What about Love and Listening as good things? Aren't these convictions? I do think you can build a set of guidance for living more meaningful lives. I am a big believer in rule of law. I think there are things we are almost 100% sure about. I do believe that you can be wrong. Many of the reasons for things being right or wrong are deeply wired into us. Jonathan Haidt explores how this can lead to conflict in 'Righteous Minds: Why good people are divided by religion and politics'.

There is an idea that 'letting go of God' would result in a lawless world. A state where everyone does their own thing. Truths that matter transcend the ways we try get to them. Stoics in Greece and Rome and the Buddha in the East come to the same conclusions. Christian monks study Muslim philosophy. Beautiful analogies come out of the Bhagavad Gita. Scientists chip away at the workings of nature and physics which releases its own magic as full understanding lies beyond the boundaries of our human abilities. 

Not knowing is a firmer foundation than believing falsely that you do.
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