Thinking about God today, particularly because I was walking by the seminary. I wonder if priests wrestle with their feelings about God more than lay people. It’s a sweeping generalization, but I think lay people tend to take their feelings about God for granted—be it belief, non-belief, or agnosticism—unless they’re in a state of crisis. And then you have people—the poor, the chronically ill—who are more or less always in a state of crisis or for whom one crisis begets another. And those people may be rather set in their ways about God also. Some people find hope or optimism through God; I tend to think that the hope itself is some aspect of God.
I’m interested in the recent backlash against mythical thinking among certain scientists and philosophers—Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, etc. A kind of mythical thinking is key to the kind of literature that I’m trying to write, and it’s key to the way I tend to look at the world. Not that I believe the “magical” metaphysical implications of it, but the language of myth and religious metaphor helps me to understand my feelings about certain things. Perhaps I’m comfortable with that language because I come from the South.
Allegedly, my uncle John had the following conversation with a street urchin when he came to New York in college to study at the seminary for a semester. I think he might have made it up.
– Hey, where are you going?
– I’m going to the seminary.
– Why you wanna be around all those dead people?
Theory: Religious beliefs are rationalizations designed to reconcile our concrete observations with concepts or beliefs instilled in us by social conditioning. As more people have an increased awareness of the physicality of the universe, doubts are cast on old belief systems and these rationalizations become more elaborate and abstract.
I think the desire to form these rationalizations is so strong because these various concepts and beliefs have ramifications beyond the physicality of science. They play a large role in how our culture has evolved, how things like entertainment media, economics and legal systems are structured. This is probably too far-reaching of a theory to be easily proven or disproven, but to me it answers some questions, perhaps.
I’m trying to understand what Bertrand Russell means when he talks about alternative ways to break up the world into nameable particles. For example, instead of looking outside and seeing trees, cars and blue sky, we would see… something else. This is where I get stuck.
Let’s try a different example. Instead of a room with tables and chairs, we would see some other arrangement of shapes and textures. Maybe we would see the legs of the tables as extensions of the floor. Unfortunately, this all seems very two-dimensional and unpragmatic. We break up the world in more ways than just visible shapes. Also, this view involves denying that we know anything about how tables work.
The advantage that I can see is that it adds poetry to our experiences, makes them less concrete, and lends mystery and wonder to things that we might take for granted under normal circumstances. This isn’t Russell’s intention, of course. He’s just trying to explain how reference works. But if I apply this technique to something I actually don’t understand, like the way a train is built or the structure of a molecule, I can easily create my own systems of understanding what I see. Perhaps, this is how we can now find God, by continually looking at things we don’t understand and trying to describe them.