AVOIDING THE “G” WORD

AVOIDING THE “G” WORD

             My friend Terry Sissons has a wonderful post on her blog “The Other I” called “My Problem with the ‘G’ word.” The “G” word, of course, is “God” and I also have a problem with it.  I avoid it by using “the Sacred” instead.  I am loathe to call it “God,” not because I am not talking about “God,” but because the word “God” has been so thoroughly corrupted with anthropomorphic imagery that I lose my bearings every time I use it.  I may be wrong, but I suspect the same is true for everyone.  The imagery appears to have a life of its own, and absolutely impervious to thought.  Any attempt to redefine it fails.  Increasingly I believe that those who claim I am trying to trick them, while they appear to not understand, simply have not been able to let let go the imagery about “God” that dominates our imagination.  So any mention of “the Sacred” as a substitute for “God” actually has the opposite effect: it conjures up the very “God” I would expunge from our imagination, as if “let in through the back door.”

             Perhaps “the Sacred” is not the best term, but at least it’s a start.  It gets us away from the “G” word.  It is not yet loaded with the baggage of “providence” and “person,” “almighty” and “all-knowing,” “divine will and command, reward and punishment” ― ancient metaphors that have been taken literally for so long that now it’s impossible to understand them as symbols.  We are so utterly mesmerized by our traditional images that we can’t even understand what anthropomorphism means and why its prohibition must be taken seriously.  The warning that instructs us to say that God is not a person rather than to say “he” is, is simply unintelligible to most people.  It is ignored and dismissed as theological mumbo-jumbo and we continue blithely to relate to a dangerous puerile product of our collective imagination. 

             So, here we are at the beginning of the third millennium of this “sacred” era, the bewildered inheritors of a tradition so rich and trans­historical, so broad and multi-ethnic, so sacralized by the blood of those who died or were slaughtered in its name, that we may be forgiven if we are overwhelmed by it.  The inertial weight of this massive behemoth is so great that many feel there are only two options … either live with the damn thing the way it is, or walk away from it entirely, once and for all.  This is the Church.  We are all quite familiar with this feeling.

             We must realize, of course, the infantile fundamentalist “God” that follows us like a dark shadow is artificially kept alive in the crypts of the Church. That “God’s” Church offers a refuge for the immature in a world that would be adult.  That “God” is a false god, and as with all idols, those that fall down before it become like it.  The Church is the way it is because its “God”-idol is the way it is, and the Church must keep things that way or it will disappear … or change radically, which is the same thing.  You can’t change the one without the other.  And the “two option” hypothesis suggests that to dump that “God” you’ll have to dump that Church.  This is not a plan, it’s an observation. 

             Were that Church ever to condescend to dialog on the issue, it would probably try to defend itself by saying that despite the utter madness on the surface, it has proposed to do one and only one thing through the millennia of its conflicted existence:  to nurture the human relationship to “God.”

             Many dispute that claim.  They say that through the ages there was just too much concubinage with empire to deny the charge that the only thing the “God”-idol ever meant to the Church was its usefulness as a tool for the maintenance of the status quo of structured predation.  And when I look at the “God” they are talking about, I realize they are absolutely right.  That “God,” like Tolkien’s ring of power, was forged in the furnaces of hell for no other purpose and with no other possible effect than to enlist the multitude in their own exploitation.  That “God” does not exist, I say, or if he does he must be exorcized ― for he is not “God;” he has set himself up in his place ― a philistine Goliath champion of philistines.  They are of the same cloth, that “God” and that Church.  Those that worship idols, keen the psalms, become like them. 

             But if the “two option” hypothesis is wrong … if there is a “third way” between Scylla and Charybdis … if the boy is to fell the Giant, if the Temple is to be brought down by a blind man, and the incense to Caesar exchanged for the blood of resistance … it will have to be in the name of that which has no name, not made by human hands, which refuses to be called “God” and is visible only as the face of our hungry human hearts.  This nameless presence lurks in no dark crypt, is enthroned in no high temple, promises no miracles, offers no life without death, demands no cloying incense, issues no commands, metes out no eternal punishments.   It asks nothing, does nothing, wants nothing … except to be with us. … It’s too simple for words … .

 Tony 

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12 comments on “AVOIDING THE “G” WORD

  1. Tony – Thank you for the mention. We are indeed in agreement about the G-word. But I now have a question about the alternative. Not the alternative word but about believing in something we might call “the sacred,” or “the unknowable,” or “mystery,” or anything else. Why believe in it at all? As your post “Curse God and Die” illustrates — not to mention my own personal conundrum over the question – it’s often fairly easy to see why one may reject or hold onto one of the traditional ideas of god. But why swap it for something else? And if one does, doesn’t it remain important to ask what our own motivations might be for one’s belief in an “alternative to god”? Especially when one contemplates the human capacity to deceive ourselves?

    I personally most often feel there is something more than the admittedly marvellous and mysterious universe revealed by science. I might use the word transcendent or sacred to describe that something more, something that is the fountain of meaning. But I am a psychologist and not unaware of a highly developed ability on my part to rationalize. I think, sometimes, I can make a reasonable-sounding case for almost any course of action. But my small modicum of self-knowledge has led to the painful conclusion that I have more than once fooled myself.

    I can come up with nothing better than to say however much we know, ignorance is the human condition. All our ideas are necessarily incomplete. But with as much integrity as each of us can, we must make our decisions about answers to those great questions of existence that we will never be able to know with certainty. On this side of death, at least.

    I am glad for the chance to think about it, nonetheless, and am hugely grateful for the effort you put in to sharing your own thoughts.
    Terry

  2. tonyequale says:

    Terry, hi! Thanks for your thoughtful and, as always, stimulating comment.

    My reflection on your comment is this … for rational factual KNOWLEDGE-BASED proof, there is none. There can’t be. The immanence is too complete, too seamless, too perfact. This is not because the Sacred hides itself but because there IS NO VISIBLE FACT-KNOWABLE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN US AND THE SACRED. This is a hard image to “wrap our minds around.” We have been formed by our culture to think of the Sacred as separate from us … an entity “out there.” Another “thing.” It’s not. It’s we ourselves as Its self-expression. Some call this pantheism … others pan-entheism. Phenomenologically speaking, in my estimation, they are indistinguishable.

    If there is no possibility of KNOWLEDGE, as I claim, then our only rational response is to admit ignorance. I absolutely agree, we do not, and I would also add, we CANNOT KNOW the Sacred.

    Reluctantly anticipating 6 full chapters in the epistemology section of my new book, “The Mystery of Matter,” I will try to say in a few quick sentences: there are ways of UNDERSTANDING that are not KNOWLEDGE. This UNDERSTANDING is “accurate” and fully human in every sense … it is not some sort of romantic la-la projection. It’s in UNDERSTANDING ourselves that we UNDERSTAND the Sacred for we are one and the same thing. The Sacred is UNKNOWABLE only insofar as we think of it as an object “out there” opposed to ourselves that we try to KNOW by the subject-object method. We can’t, because the object we think we are looking at (or for) turns out actually to be ourselves. KNOWING must yield to UNDERSTANDING when a “hungry self-embracing we” is the “fact” … when the object is the very thirsting subject itself. You can’t put yourself “out-there” and look at yourself the way you look at things that are “out there” because you are not “out there.” You are only and always your self-embracing “you” and your self-embrace is the key. You do not KNOW what the damn thing is, but you UNDERSTAND it like nothing else in the world.

    You ask, what difference does UNDERSTANDING “the Sacred” make? There is only one difference, an enormous self-affirming and world-affirming love … and the profound peace and compassion that comes with it. Too mushy for a scientist? OK, then let’s call it a paroxysmal existential communitarian self-embrace … .

    Don’t let the rational circularities on the surface throw you off. It will become clearer once you get a chance to read the whole book. It won’t be long … I hope.

    Tony

    • Tony, Thank you for your response and the preview of the whole book, which I am eagerly looking forward to. For what it’s worth, here are my thoughts as they occurred after reading your comment. First, I thought yes, I know the experience of understanding something without knowing it in the subject-object sense you describe. But my second thought is “Do I?” I don’t think I really know the difference between what I think you are calling understanding (and that I think I might call intuition) and knowledge which is merely incomplete.

      My second concern is the impossibility of validating this “understanding.” And that scares me. Look at what we humans so often do with what we think we understand – and give names to itlike god or the transcendent or spiritual or insight. Now I admit that in both big and little things we do this with knowledge as well – distorting reality to fit in to the box we have already created out of what we are sure we know, and using that as justification for endless foolishness, cruelty, and arrogance.

      I suspect your answer is along the lines of: the only validation is enduring self-affirming world-affirming love. We might be able to fool ourselves and others in the short term, but if love is not, ultimately what remains, we have been deluding ourselves.

      If that’s so, then I get back to my mantra: we can never be absolutely sure that what we are sure of is right. We might die in defense of it, but history suggests that certainty, unfortunately, is no guarantee. In that sense, we must live in fear and trembling.

      But joy too.

      I find your comments are always thought-provoking. But don’t put responding to this post ahead of working on The Mystery of Matter. I’m too eager to read the whole thing.

      Terry

      • tonyequale says:

        Terry

        … bravo! But no … the understanding is not validated by the peace and self-affirming and universe-affirming love that accompanies the vision (though it might appear that such an effect from a pragmatist’s point of view might serve as evidence that one were “moving in the right direction …” for after all, for a pragmatist it’s what “works” that’s “true.”)

        At any rate, in my scheme of things, what validates understanding is the experience of the conatus, which remains direct, undeniable, sui generis, inexplicable yet completely and intimately understandible … probaby with an intelligibility that is matched by nothing else in the world, because the conatus is ME MYSELF! There’s more … but if I give away the whole ending, no one will buy the book! And after all, I’M ONLY IN IT FOR THE MONEY …

        Tony

  3. Graham says:

    If I may interject a thought, albeit from a gut-level reaction to this post (and therefore not yet fully formed), by avoiding the “g-word” you lose the majority of the very people who are most in need of hearing the message. I have never met an intellectual who doesn’t understand that the god of the common man is flawed (although how they deal with it is somewhat variable), but I have met perhaps hundreds of non-intellectuals who believe that they have the answer to all questions, and who are perfectly content to point to their “book” when confronted. These people are not going to learn a new vocabulary, invented for the sole purpose of convincing them they are wrong. But they might sit still long enough to hear a new interpretation of an old story. Just a thought.

    • tonyequale says:

      Graham, hi!
      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I am in your debt.
      Perhaps another way your question might be framed could be, “what’s the point”? Am I right? If I am, it would imply that I might be expected to have a “point” or purpose beyond what I’m saying … a more remote point in the service of which I am making this proximate point. To avoid sounding convoluted I will simply say I have only one purpose in mind with most of my “essays,” and that is the one point that I am making. In this case it’s an attempt to sustain the barrage on the anthropomorphic images of “God” that neither confirm believers in their faith nor neutralize the compelling nature of the attack from those who are, with a similarly misleading nomenclature, called “atheist.” The issue of “who does this speak to,” like the parallel question, “who is listening,” is irrelevant to the essayist who has no constiuency … and maybe not even readers. So he makes his point, as he likes, without reference to “for whom.”
      Now, were I a priest, and this a sermon delivered from a pulpit to a crowded Church of thirsty God-seekers on a Sunday morning (rather than an essay on the personal blog of an apprentice of Zarathustra), I can assure you that it would have neither the form nor the content that you see before you … and which, in that case, you could justifiably question. As it stands now, my only question to you is, “did you get the point”?
      Tony

  4. Graham says:

    I do get your point. Now lets see if you get mine … You are right. whatever you choose to do, it’s none of my business. So no offense, but if you really want to spend a significant amount of your time writing for a non-existent audience, then you are the audience. But I suppose you knew that.

  5. tonyequale says:

    Graham, I sense that you are offended. I’m sorry. My style tends to be abrasive. Please forgive me.

    If I were to write for my non-existent readers, as you seem to be saying, I doubt that beginning to use the “g” word, for example, would generate them. There are many reasons why I am not read, and compromising my position would not overcome that problem.

    My “point” was not to say “I have no readers therefore I’m doing what I want,” but rather “do you understand why using the “G” word causes the vision I’m trying to communicate to self-destruct”? Being a priest would guarantee listeners. There’s a reason I’m not a priest, and not wanting listeners is not it. To suggest that what I’m trying to say could be adequately communicated by using the “G” word absolutely misses the point of the piece. You seem to not understand. I cannot relate to that.

    On the other hand, readership aside, if what you are really saying is that yes, you do get the the point of the piece, but that you feel that it is pointless, then I can relate to what you are saying … and I’m afraid I disagree …

    Tony

  6. Graham says:

    As Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia, is reputed to have said: “Beware of philosophers who discourse like angels and live like men.” Actually, It is I who should apologize to you. I did see your point, but I thought you were blowing me off in a condescending way, so I decided to see if I could get you down off the soap box long enough to exchange a few words in English (You speak English very well. You should consider writing some of your blogs in English).

    As for your abrasive style, I’m used to it. I come from a family of 5 boys (the middle child, I’m afraid). And have spent most of my life trying not to sound arrogant. I’m glad you didn’t give up and write me off. You seem like you have your act together, and we need every thinking person we can find, given the way the world seems to be going.

  7. tonyequale says:

    Graham …

    Very interesting response. Thank you. You actually came close to saying what it is you don’t like about my material … and apparently it has to do with the writing … what you called “English.”
    This is very important for my work, which at this point in my labyrinthine trajectory is dedicated to writing, for what it’s worth.

    At the risk of over-taxing your willingness to be specific, I wonder if you would have the time and inclination to specify what exactly you meant.
    Now I realize that my zest for polemics may make you wary that I am just spoiling for a fight. Not at all! Please believe me. I welcome and am quite good at receiving any such specific criticisms, no matter how arrogantly thrown, with equanimity. (It’s the windy generalities that are hard to handle.) When your job is grinding, grist is gold. I do sincerely hope you will consider my request … it will place me even deeper in your debt.

    Your opening quote made me wonder if the attitudes toward humanity in that poverty-stricken, war-torn part of the world were as ambiguous then as they are now. In other words, was the Prince more threatened by men or angels. I suspect he put more trust in the angels. For my part, despite our congenital cannibalism, I cast my lot with men, and leave imaginary spirits to children and dreamers.

    Tony

  8. Graham says:

    I thought you would see the humor in my response, and would take it in that vein. I guess I went too far. I have some things I have to do today, then maybe we can start over. As for the prince, the answer to your question is neither. It is of philosophers that he should beware, which is sort of the business you and I are in currently.

    Please accept my apologies, again, and I will try to be a bit more serious when next we meet. (I did’t mean to trivialize your work. I know how hard it is to write about a new idea.))

    Graham

  9. tonyequale says:

    Graham,

    I’m disappointed. For a minute there I thought you were on the brink of saying something clear and distinct, and maybe even challenging. Oh well, I guess not. … or at least not yet. Maybe later, d’ya think?

    “English,” by the way, for us golf hackers and snookers enthusiasts means “spin.” We are all familiar with the meaning of “spin” in the world of words, viz., the ability to say nothing at all and yet talk in such a way as to generate a feeling of distrust and even disdain for the other’s argument.

    I do hope this busy period in your life is not extenuated … I was so looking forward to a meaningful dialog with you and to hear some intelligent and well thought out cristicism of my struggling ideas and even, perhaps, my turgid prose. I take criticism well, I may have mentioned, but not bullshit.

    Tony

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