Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Return

(The Prodigal Son painted by Herbert Moore)

When I admit to belief in God it no longer causes my face blush up pretty pink. Those of us who left religious faith for the "mountain peaks" of rational thought perhaps have the hardest time finding our way back.

The intellectual challenge, "What, you mean you believe that?" "You can't believe that!" "Why not go on to belief in fairies, unicorns and magic wands?" is difficult to hear when you know your explanation will not be appreciated.

After my long sojourn among the rationalists I was quite unhappy and depressed, my heart telling me one thing and my mind trying to tell me something else. No longer a child, I had tried growing up and leaving behind the kid's stuff - like belief in God.

Making my journey via Christian fundamentalism did me no good at all. Rationalism is hugely successful when religious belief is inextricably entwined to an ancient "holy book."

There's an old axiom in boxing: "kill the body and the head will die." Sound advice because the body is a larger target than the head and more difficult to move and protect. Likewise, in the struggle to construct a worldview, kill belief in holy books and the idea of God should die.

The rationalists pounded away at my Bible and I was winded. I was down. But not for the count. Strangely enough an idea from that champion of infidelity Robert G. Ingersoll lodged in my mind and later became my - pardon the expression - "salvation."

Ingersoll brought up the salient point: "If books had existed before man, I might admit there was such a thing as a sacred volume."

It took a while for the implications of that thought to take hold of my mind.

For some folks that body blow might knock the wind out of them. But for me it paved the way for me to consider the idea that man is intrinsically religious and naturally geared toward belief in a Creator and sustainer.

Therefore, the Bible (or Quran, Vedas, Avesta, Book of Mormon, Book of Certitutde, etc.) is the product of human minds. Granted, the product of human minds imbued by a divine spark, but human and finite nevertheless.

It followed in my thinking that sacred scriptures didn't give us truth about God so much as human experiences of the divine reality. These experiences are varied and colored by the times in which they were written. They are valuable when used appropriately, but harmful when misused as the end-all and be-all of how things are supposed to be.

The rationalist is at his strongest when he is attacking a holy book or fundamentalism (which in my thinking is mistaking the symbol for what is symbolized) based on holy books.

But when that rationalism is turned towards the ultimate questions of life, it loses a lot of its punch.

My return to God is not based on reason as much as intuition; that is, an attentive attitude - that small voice inside me, or to borrow a Quaker phrase, that "inner light."

Rufus Jones explained it thus: "The Inner Light is the doctrine that there is something Divine, ‘Something of God’ in the human soul." And for me that trumps the need for apologetics - not in that reason has no role to play in my faith in God, but that it is insufficient alone.

Now obviously I can't ignore the scriptures and belief system that once shaped my outlook. It already permeates much of my religious thought. But I read those scriptures and that system in a new way now. I don't limit myself to human books either, because the book of nature has secrets to reveal, I believe, for its author is God. 

I'm hoping others from the various traditions will find the courage to do the same and that one day we can meet somewhere in the clearing.

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