Saturday, September 30, 2006

The wisdom of those who disagree with me

Over on are some interviews Robert Wright did with various wise men a few years ago. I was most interested in the interviews with Huston Smith. It reminded me of watching Joseph Campbell on PBS, understandably as both men are gentle speakers who see value in everyone's beliefs, even those who don't believe. I came closer to believing that at one time, as a good liberal does, than I did Christian fundamentalism, yet looking at it now, what comes to mind is the slew of objections I have to either sort of simplicity.

To a fundamentalist I would point out all the objections some atheists have compiled about the Bible. They say their apologetics is enough to answer those objections, to which I say "nonsense". We can go to any specific objection for the details of that. No one sits down and line by line attacks a book about the perennial philosophy favored by Huston Smith the same way. Huston Smith isn't the same power to be resisted so strongly as fundamentalism. So I am satisfied with an occasional academic saying Huston Smith is wrong, like Steven Katz, but then there are many things about which I think Steven Katz is wrong.

My inability to ever find someone about whom I could say, "This man has it exactly right," has shaped my beliefs, just as Huston Smith says in the interview on faith and reason that he was impressed by the beliefs of other people. I've been impressed by how everyone is wrong in important ways. Huston Smith admits the errors, but says that the rest of religion is unsurpassed in human understanding, for the big picture. Nonsense, the errors make everything else a fantasy.

God is not The Infinite as Huston Smith calls Him. Ask God. He'll tell you, once you've learned to listen. Understanding God is not just a matter of integrating all human experience. Some experience is indeed more illuminating than others, more productive, more likely to lead people to a better life, for themselves and for others. But there is not value in all beliefs. Even as negative examples, there are many more negatives than are required to learn another way.

Yet even though I am convinced that in the big picture, almost every theologian and philosopher is wrong, they can say wise things. In the interview here on faith and reason, Huston Smith speaks wisely about spiritual experiences, how they open someone's eyes as they opened Job's, even though Job is a fictional character. Smith spoke about that well. Other things he said were not so good. Many objections come to mind.

So can I build up a big picture from such wisdom, that I call wisdom because I find no fault with it immediately? I'm glad that's not my only option. Instead I have a relationship with God, if only God and I believe that I do. I can ask God if my eccentricities are because I took a wrong turn or fell through a hidden door. I get an answer. It's hasn't always been what I want to hear, but it has helped me.

I know God is not The Infinite. Huston Smith doesn't. He believes others who say God is The Infinite. Lots of people do. Who is there to tell them otherwise? I would. I would quote God on the subject, but for many that would prove to them that I don't know God because for them God is The Infinite, so they wouldn't listen to me even if I found a way to speak louder than I do. Why should they? They don't listen to God. Of course that's even harder than listening to the words of a human being.

Yet these are wise people. They know some things. Add them all up, and they know a lot of things. They know about surrender. They know about being dependent. They know about selfless love. They know words and concepts. They just don't know God.

Might they know God a little? God says to me that those who only know God intellectually don't know Him at all. He says that those who only know some experience of Him don't know Him at all. He must come to live in a person's mind. Then they will know Him, His imperfections, that He does change. They will know His power is limited, His knowledge is limited, His love is limited, and His goodness is limited, not just because only a little bit of The Infinite can live in the finite, but because God is not The Infinite.

Many very wise people would disagree with that or say that some intermediate stage toward having God live in us is a good thing. No, it's not, too many people settle for some rumor about God rather than coming to God in everything they are. Such wise people are indeed wise. I can hear it in how they talk about some point better than I can. Yet they don't know God. I can hear that as well. Maybe it's just my God they don't know. Only whenever I try to give someone the benefit of doubt that way, God immediately says no, He is the only God, and He is as I understand Him to be.

People can avoid this God, and He will leave them alone, as He leaves alone all animals who lack the capacity to understand Him, but some really should know better, not many, but enough that God is irritated by the subject. Wisdom is a two-edged sword. It can cut through the thorns on the way toward God, but it can cut one off from God as well. God help me.

No comments: