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?