Molong cloudset, NSW 2011

A Greater Reality

Living through the pain of not being able to believe...

In the middle of radical doubt and pervading persuasive pointlessness, how do I survive?

The thing is not to let the reality of the pain cloud the greater reality. The immediate reality which is the pain of the loss of the church, or the pain of not being able to believe, can flood over the greater reality of the Divine.

I can get so hung up on my pain and anger about the popular view of God which failed me that I forget there is supposedly a reality behind all this.  Pat of being human is to confuse the mediation of the reality with the reality itself. The question is whether the reality is believable, not whether the mediation of the reality is believable.

So if the God I learned in Sunday School, who just got more sophisticated in theological school is simply a mediation, what or where is the greater reality?


For me, at base, there is a choice.  By even thinking about all this, I have already decided our observation of reality is basically trustworthy.  We are not living in absurdity, although at times....

The choice is not about understanding.  We are in something much bigger than us, and if we ever understand it we are claiming, really, to be bigger than it. This is where I begin to separate from the popular views of science which, in fact, seek to "overstand" and pull to pieces and master their subject of study. In Christian theology they talk of the "via negativa," the negative way- God is not this.  Or in Buddhism, they talk of "killing the Buddha."  If you find the Buddha you should kill him for he is surely not the Buddha.

The beginning of the choice is to recognise we are dealing with the ultimately unknowable, with Mystery.  We are truly seeking to "stand under" in the end. 

The beginning of the choice is to have the courage to let go of the mediation of the Divine which we have inherited, and accept that its comfort and safety are not real enough for us.  There must be a greater reality.  God does not insist that the mediation is unchanging.  Neither, in fact, does the church at its best.  Despite the clamour of the fearful, there is no shame in (not ceasing to believe but) saying "This is not enough.  This cannot be God.  This is too little, I cannot believe in this."

I think a lot of our doubting and the pain and depression it brings, is because we are trying to make the lesser reality carry the weight only the greater reality can bear.  We seek meaning, comfort and purpose... something like that, in a story/mediation we know in our hearts cannot carry the weight and bear the load of existence. Put bluntly, the story as we often hear it in Sunday sermons does not 'work' anymore. It does not mediate the divine.

To choose to let go of this story is to face the ultimate choice. I'm not sure how well I can describe this choice, but to let go is to enter a graceful freedom.

In the end, the choice is about deciding how I will respond to the universe.  Will I live as though all this matters, or does it not matter? Will I live as though there was/is something at back of all this, or as though it somehow just happened?  Will I live as though there is some purpose- some good, or as though it is all mindless, and determined by the mesh of protein chemistry and pure chance?

Am I at home in all this, or is it alien?  Is there some bias to the beneficent in all the madness, or only mindless neutrality, or even malevolence?

As my mate Geoffrey used to say about various theological viewpoints, "It's all a matter of style."  Will I choose to see the universe has half full or half empty?  At base it might be just that simple.  Will I live in a half empty, dwindling universe where opportunity and hope evaporate as I grow older and more cynical, or misfortune comes?  Or will I live in a half full universe where things are coming to fruition?  Will I seek to live in hope, filling the glass for myself and others, or draining it and finding it increasingly bitter?

All of this is a qualified choice, I think. It is response to how we find the world.  It would not be hard to "feel" not at home in the world.  I walk through a park every morning.  The traffic hushes as I go down the hill.  I enter palms and tall bunya pines.  Sometimes there is no beauty here.  Instead, there is blank neutrality, at best.  At worst, a preternatural hostility.  There is no tiger to come out of the thickets, and yet there is... malevolence lurks.  It is not hard to find the universe an alien place.  Our growing and becoming can lead us to naturally feel more of the hardness. Those who make light of the hardness, and who easily deny that for some people there seems no choice, have not yet faced the dark side of life.

But there is choice.

I am dwelling on 'choice' because this is perhaps the ultimate thing we do  The choice to make is  not really self-evident. We do not live in an environment where belief in God is easy or natural. Much of our science and philosophy and most of our politics tell us there is no God.  Yet "unbelief" is not a foregone conclusion, either. Our society is riddled with the assumption that there is more than just the natural world. The success of a movie like Ghost, or a TV series like Buffy betrays a longing for more than the ordinary, if not for the divine.

So the choice is contested.  And not self evident.  In the end, in truth, we have scant evidence.  It is hard to sift our fears and longings and make a well considered choice.  It may even be that eventually we do not know. "I cannot choose on evidence, but I will choose to live as though...."

What ever we do, I don't think we can really face the pain of the failure of our received views of god (or of the saving nature of modern science) unless we make the basic choice.

The choice is deeply ambivalent.  You will have felt this already.  On the one hand I am responding to the evidence, difficult and conflicted though it may be, and on the other,  it sounds almost as though I am defining the reality.  "I will choose to live as though..." "the choice is deciding how I will respond..."

Here we are making the ultimate step of faith, and here we see why humanity is "only a little lower than the angels."  There is no mummy or daddy, or favourite aunt, to tell us what is right.  There is no pastor or guru like theological scholar to validate our choice.  This is between "God" and us.

By choosing "to live as though..." we can never create God. Of course this is so.  But by choosing to live as though NOT.. we do un-create God.  We do put ourselves as creator/God/first which expresses the classical features of refusal to believe and idolatry and disobedience.

So, in the beginning, however slim our reasons, we choose.

April 13 2002

Would you like to comment?
Click to add feedback

Copyright ^Top