The Future of an Allusion

Religion is the poetry of our people. It is focused on the most basic and yet most elusive of all virtual realities — who we think we are.  “God,” of course, has always been thought of as our source and designer.  So when we spoke of “God” we were really alluding to where we thought we came from and what we believed we were designed for.  It was a fairly straightforward project.  We were trying to figure out how to live; once our minds came awake, our bodies fell silent on the issue, and we were facing a void.

No one has ever seen “God.” In the past, all religions claimed to have some privileged source that provided accurate information — guaranteed — about “God” and what he wanted.  And on that basis they told us who we were and how we should live.  Many religions still do.

In our day, we are no closer to seeing “God” than our forebears.  But there is one great difference; we now no longer believe that it is “God” who determines how we should live. Whatever “God” there is, we have now decided, is not in the business of issuing commandments. Funda­men­tally this changes religion from a search for what “God wants,” to a search for what we really are, and what we want for ourselves and our world.

Since there has always been a close correlation between “God” and “how we should live,” this search-shift corresponds to our realization that “God” is not something other than us.  So it’s not surprising in these new circumstances that we are looking for a new definition of “God.”  We are not only who we think we are, but we also know that “God” is (and always has been) only what we think “he” is. “God” is the symbol — the allusion — we generate that “explains” who we think we are and how we think we should live.

But make no mistake.  Even though “God” is a symbol created by us, we did not design, fashion and extrude our own organisms into existence.  We are not self-originating.  Whatever it is that did that, is our “God.” Our poetic allusions may molt and modulate through time, but it’s only because our growing knowledge of ourselves — greatly enhanced by science — is constantly sug­gesting new symbols for “God.”  But our quest is always for “what,” not “whether,” for none of us is self-originating.  Right now I am suggesting that the symbol for our “God” is matter’s existential energy.

Those who have looked to this book to provide a blueprint for institutional religious reform by “tweaking” traditional dogmas, surely have realized by this time that they came to the wrong place.  What I am proposing is nothing less than the acceptance of full responsibility for religion. Religion is a human project.  It is not “God’s,” nor the Church’s.  It belongs to us.  We need religion to sustain and deepen our sense of the sacredness — the mysterion — that is this universe of matter.  Religion is the poetry we create to help us do that.  It’s a tool of the human spirit.  It is in everyone’s interest to further that project, and it is everyone’s responsibility to make sure it does not become dysfunctional and destructive.  That may mean that we no longer leave it to those who have arrogated control of it and perhaps have used it to conserve the ring of dehumanizing power forged in the furnaces of ancient empires.  Religion belongs to us all.  Without an objectively grounded sense of the sacred, life is fatally impoverished — we cannot embrace the void, we never plumb the depths or the real meaning of the matter we are made of we never become fully human.  Who we think we are remains small, desperate and grasping.

The sense of the sacred emerges irrepressibly from the conatus — the drive to survive.  It is the soil in which our humanity grows and flourishes.  We understand the sacredness of existence because our very bodies cry out with joy for it.  We take our material existence for granted … we don’t think twice about it until what seems to be its disap­pear­ance looms before us.  Then we are shocked … not just perplexed or dismayed, but truly shocked.  How could I pos­sibly die … disappear … me? … no longer exist?  It is literally unimagin­able. These diaphan­ous minds we are so proud of, are biologi­cally incap­able of imagining physical non-exper­ience which we equate with non-existence.  We are pro­grammed for living in our material universe.  We don’t know how to be dead.  Fortun­ately, when death comes it is something that happens to us, it is not something we are called on to do … for if it were up to us it would never occur.  We certainly know how to kill ourselves, and we may even learn how to “let go,” but we don’t know how to die.  That means we have yet to fully embrace the void which brought us into existence.

Just what, exactly, is this “void” and how does it make us human?


6 comments on “The Future of an Allusion

  1. theotheri says:

    Another really great post, Tony, bridging that gap between the world presented to us by science and the questions traditionally addressed by “religion.” Every one does not travel by the same road map, but I am among those who cannot be enthralled by concepts that are not consonant with science. Even though we must go beyond science, I myself can’t by-pass it. There are those who can – indeed who cannot arrive at any transcendence at all through the insights of science. But more and more of us cannot do it that way. Thank you again.

    • tonyequale says:

      Terri, hi!

      Science is the doorway to truth. It has to be the basis of whatever “spirituality” we devise. Thanks for your steadfast commitment that reminds us of its priority.


  2. rjjwillis says:

    As usual, Tony, you spark a response in me. In particular, you may me toss around inside the notion of existential energy as a definition of, or an explanation of, God.

    I think of three sets of data coming form the world of science in this regard. In the first place, I recall the scientific axiom known as “The Law of the Conservation of Energy.” It maintains that once energy exists, it can never cease to exist. It can, certainly, change its form and even its activity, but once it is, it simply is. And, I note, science says nothing about how any energy originated: that is beyond its capability to explain. Thus, in this regard, our material death does not mean that we cease to exist as the life-energy we are; rather only our form as sensate and material beings does.

    Modern scientific research on the sub-atomic level of existence has tried hard to find the “ur matter,” the ultimate building block of matter, that primal stuff from which matter originated. The search has failed. Indeed, many scientists now accept that there is no such ultimate matter. Rather, in its place, there is the ultimate reality that matter and energy are convertible realities: matter is energy and energy is matter. There is, ultimately, no difference, just a distinction that we can make in our minds. So when matter seems to die, it really doesn’t: it just changes it form into the energy that it is.

    Finally, quantum physical research has uncovered the strange fact that sub-atomic particles can appear and disappear in a cloud chamber, moving form point A to point B without passing through any intervening space. Somehow these particles don’t act according to the laws of matter, subject to time and movement. Instead, they act more lkie energy which ebbs and flows with the quality of its life. So, just as light can be both a wave and particles at the same instant, so matter can be both matter and energy simultaneously.

    So “God,” for me anyway, is simply the existential energy in which “we live and move and have our being.” We don’t exist outside of “God.” Rather, we exist as material/spiritual expressions in time and place of that God’s presence.

    It’s a lovely day outside. The dog, and I, want to enjoy it. May your day be as blessed. Bob

    • tonyequale says:

      Bob, thanks

      Spring planting puts me in touch with this improbable thing called life in a way that always astounds. And it’s the “touch” part that I like the most. “What our hands have handled” … what a privilege.


    • theotheri says:

      Bob – I just want to add my “here here!” (or is it “hear hear!”?) to your comment. Nothing, no poetry, no music, no art can make my heart sing the way physics does. I’m not up there with the geniuses, but I know what Victor Weisskopf means when he says “When life is very bad, two things make life worth living – Mozart and quantum mechanics.”


  3. theotheri says:

    Tony – This is a request to ask you to consider writing one day about the ethics of abortion. Although I obviously do not agree with it, I have some sympathy with those Catholics who accept the RC teaching that we must assume that a soul is present from the very moment of conception and that abortion is therefore murder. And discarding the soul theory does not mean that life can therefore be treated like a commodity to be discarded at will. Nor, of course, can sex, whether or not it leads to conception.

    This, as you know, is not a question of immediate practical importance to me. So please do not consider this an urgent request!


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