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Putting Away Childish Things

March 3, 2012

I have recently joined a Lent study course at St John’s, Old Malden. We are looking at the novel by Marcus Borg which has the title I’ve used for this blog.

Borg puts his progressive christian theology into the lectures given by professor Kate Riley and the conversations and discussions of his characters.

The main idea is that biblical literacy is quite a modern idea which only occurred after the Enlightenment. Before that nobody read scripture like that. 

In a world where everybody believed what was given to them by their priests, there was no need to ponder on whether the  bible was accurate.

So Borg explores the idea that a story can be true, whilst not being factual and literal,

I find that I can go along quite easily with this view. It means that I can respect the bible as a source of wisdom and guidance without having to accept that somehow it is the infallible word of God. I don’t need to treat it as sacred in itself, I only need to listen to its wisdom. There are many other places I can go to find wisdom for living, which are equally valid, whether they are texts from other religions or contemporary philosophy and ethics.

I put away childish things when I stopped believing that the Universe cared about me. The day that I finally accepted that God was probably an illusion and delusion was the day my soul grew up and faced reality. I had been fighting this for a few years, pushing down the doubts and the little voice that kept saying ‘hang on. Does that make sense? How can that be? Do you truly believe that?

Of course I could have dismissed this as the voice of the devil, but I haven’t believed in him as a person with objective existence for a very long time. The devil is a joke for Halloween parties. I do not personify either good or evil, To me, that is a childish thing. It pushes a part of human nature outside of us and projects it onto an imaginary being which is then allowed to assume a reality of its own. The same can be said of gods. If there are dark forces and benign energies in the Universe I think they must emanate from human consciousness and that some people’s minds are more sensitive than others to picking up and creatively reacting to them. I can accept a sort of telepathic energy, but not unseen spirits from some immaterial realm whose role here is either to make mischief or to bestow blessing randomly.

I believe, as Richard Dawkins does, that science will find answers to all our questions about the Universe, given enough time, and that we don’t need to posit supernatural forces to ‘explain’ anything. Indeed, for me, positing  God or Satan as an explanation for something is a ‘non-answer’. It is the same as saying ‘I don’t know, it is a mystery, but then spoiling it by introducing an element that destroys the excitement of it whilst adding nothing by way of elucidation.

Science looks for answers amongst the stuff of life. God just shuts the door of enquiry and exploration, especially when such voyages of discovery are viewed as heresy or blasphemy by his/her acolytes. To accuse and punish a person for the blasphemy of insulting a being that exists only in the imaginations of those who believe in it, seems like one of the most absurd and evil of human rights abuses.

A Universe populated with spirits and gods is  just like a fairy story. I don’t believe I live in such a Universe. Reality is far grander and more glorious than that. A whole cosmos that moves relentlessly on and cares nothing for me and has no plan for my life. My insignificance is part of the magnificence. It is arrogance to assume I am important to anybody but those who love me, and why should I be loved at all? To be grateful is to put away childish selfishness. To realise that I am owed nothing and deserve nothing is liberation from a bondage to worry about the ‘why me’ question. There is no ultimate why.

To stand on the top of a mountain or a cliff over the sea and to view the vast, indifferent natural world before you is to understand that human squabbles are just a small squeak in the noise of  billions of years, and with that  comes the sad awareness of the tragedy of not living with love for your fellows during your short time here. To leave human society a little better for your being a part of it for a tiny fragment of time, is a good purpose to adopt. How different our world might be – how much kinder and more beautiful – if happiness and good will were societal norms.

That is enough to work for. We don’t need gods to help us – they haven’t managed very well so far, and never will, since creations of men’s minds are fickle demons with unlimited head space to work their mischief.

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