The Perennial Philosophy Revisited:
Volume 1 – Mind in Transition
Chapter 1 – Full Text
1: The Functional Ultimacy of Human Beings
Humanism is the effort of men to think, to feel, and to act for themselves, and to abide by the logic of results.
The Architecture of Humanism p. 191.
I myself have commanded my consecrated ones, have summoned my warriors, my proudly exalted ones, to execute my anger. See, the day of Yahweh comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation, and to destroy its sinners from it . . . Whoever is found will be thrust through, and whoever is caught will fall by the sword. Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be plundered, and their wives ravished.
Isaiah 13: 3, 5, 9, 15-17
I was then persuaded and remained confirm’d, that the voice of honest indignation is the voice of God
The Marriage of Heaven and Hell
It took us four and half centuries to break the power of divine revelation, only to replace it with the divine revelations of reason. We must therefore break again, this time with arbitrary logic and the superstition of knowledge.
And yet to argue against reason means arguing as an idiot or as an entertainer who seeks only to amuse . . . Somehow we must do today what Voltaire once did – scratch away the veneer in order to get at the basic foundations. We must discover how to ask simple questions about ourselves.
John Ralston Saul
Voltaire’s Bastards p. 38.
The Hardening Humanist Perspective 1.0.
As this book began to take shape, I sensed I was headed for trouble. For what had occurred to me was that secular humanism’s premise that all questions be limited to what the human mind can rationally fathom had reached a point of impasse, a point of deadlock where “rationality” seemed to have become an enemy unto itself. In the secular humanist’s scheme, rational thinking had progressively become the new divinity, the all-seeing eye by which, and through which, all questions had to be filtered – even to the extent of judging what the question ought to be in the first place. Ask the wrong question and you got not only the wrong answer, you got a string of wrong answers that could bedevil for decades, even for centuries. So went the reasoning, and it was, on the whole, sound reasoning.
But it had a flaw.
In the attempt to eradicate wrong answers from human affairs, Renaissance humanists from across Europe (circa 1300 to 1660) had rightly pursued rational thought and free inquiry as an ideal, but in their fervour to straighten out the medieval mess – in particular religion’s “divine authority” claims – they had inadvertently weakened our present-day capacity to appreciate the importance of some of reality’s more complex offerings: the bird of free inquiry’s wings had been progressively clipped to suit a hardening humanist perspective as John Ralston Saul so ably demonstrates in Voltaire’s Bastards, the Dictatorship of Reason in the West (1993). But in many ways this hardening could not be avoided; the old medieval images of “hierarchy”, “universal analogy” and “symmetrical correspondences between orders of being” had continued well into the Renaissance period,1 and they were for some still operative. There again, true as it is that the human dimension is undoubtedly the dimension through which all experience is channelled, that does not mean that human experience is necessarily as limited as secular humanism’s often rigid rationale seems to suggest. The radical assumption that some kind of ceiling to sensible questioning has been reached, and that all “religious” experiences are in some sense “irrational”, and therefore rationally explicable, is now open to reassessment. Why so? Because religious experience is not limited to “theistic” experience alone; there is more than one way to crack the cosmic egg.
But by what criteria can the humanist rationale be reassessed? Irrationality is irrational and will ever remain so. Open the gate even slightly to explanations of self and world that undermine humanism’s philosophy of rational limitation and the result would be catastrophic. Witness those who seriously advocate astrological prediction over psychological counselling; or the plethora of books on magic, angels, casting spells and such like that now festoon book stores. The list of absurdities can be multiplied endlessly, and our ability to reason our way beyond such thinking has to be safeguarded. But a question arises: What exactly are we safeguarding? Are we safeguarding, as we imagine, rational thinking as a process, or merely the “rationale” that rational thinking is sufficient unto itself? In other words, is all rational thinking ultimately rational? Can all knowledge and experience be boiled down to a “reasoning process” that dismisses anything other than what it itself rationally nominates as acceptable? Is there not a Catch-22 aspect to such thinking?
When I considered the implications of my thoughts, the difficulty of making a case for secular humanism to reassess its own highly successful rationale became only too obvious. For how could I explain the defect I believed myself to have detected without being accused of not being rational enough in my approach? It did not matter how I unpacked the question, the end result would be the suspicion that I was attacking rational thought, not the “rationale” that human experience was more limited than it actually was. And anyway, what was the difference between those positions? The rationale that rational thinking was the safest route was the result of intelligent people thinking rationally, that’s all there was to it. End of story; argument closed. Well, not quite. There was (as indicated in my introduction) an alternative stance, and it hinged on the difference, the distinct and sometimes deadly difference, between “rational” thinking and “rationalistic” thinking, the latter being an attempt to “explain away” rather than “explore” certain kinds of questions.
Rational thinking is, by definition, a finely-grained discipline of mind that avoids sloppy outcomes; rationalistic thinking tends towards a quick dismissal of anything that does not fit into an intellectually predetermined network of ideas and opinions. Instead of being a system of organised free inquiry, secular humanism can sometimes take on a dogmatic tenor and sound uncomfortably autocratic. But only when its exponents, of which I am one, forget that all propositions are by nature provisional, and that “absolutist” claims are not characteristic of humanist thinking proper. Complexity has the habit of making fools of us all; there is always a little “something” we’ve missed that only later swims into focus. The cult of “attainable” knowledge has, it seems, tainted our approach to some questions; they appear immediately inadmissible because not amenable to scientific probing.
Analysis and Synthesis 1.1
Wolfgang von Goethe’s maxim that every act of analysis should be followed by an act of synthesis holds good in my opinion; it makes sense to think that too cerebral an approach to certain questions leads to distortion, or worse. The purpose of good solid thinking is the penetration of problems to their core, or as near to their core as one can get, not a predetermined rejection of certain questions on the basis of their not being to our liking. Questions that annoy, defy or challenge our pet intellectual assumptions about self, other or world need not be spurious, they may just be too complex for our reasoning minds to immediately unravel. T. S. Eliot referred to this blind spot in our thinking as a “dissociation in sensibility”, and he detected it in poetry after the seventeenth century. Dissociation in this sense has been put down to the rigours of scientific precision overpowering our deeper intuitions; but it may just be our need for “certainty” and “emotional security” surfacing in new guise. Which is odd, when you think about it, for who would have guessed that hard-headed cerebration could indicate “insecurity of mind” and not, as is generally supposed, superiority of mind? We are, it seems, infected by “objectivism”, our mental energies usurped by a driving need for “logic”, the very structure of our thinking overpowered by the notion that abstract language is the only reliable conduit of meaning. And maybe not even abstract language. According to some, we should be translating everything we know, or think we know, into mathematical formulae to be absolutely certain that we’ve got it right. But it was not always so. Humanism’s great strength did not lie in its ability to produce absolute certainty about anything, more in general programs of education that opened the mind to the best that human beings could offer. Plus an opening of the “eyes”, it has been argued. A revolution in perception is detectable by the beginning of fifteenth century, and it heralded more than an external, technical mastery of perspective and representation – we were by then “seeing” the world around us in a different way.2
Extreme rationalists exist in all of the major disciplines, and in every walk of life; they can be recognised by their addiction to either/or thinking. Either/or thinking is reductionist in nature; it shrinks complexity to false choices and leaves the mind short-changed. Synthesis regulates the potential excesses of analysis and leads to helpful “solutions”. Solutions do not necessarily constitute “answers”; they are, more often than not, intermediate stages in a process of seeing into a problem ever more deeply. In this sense solutions are “clarifications” that carry us ever nearer to a problem’s core. Rationalistic probing, on the other hand, is a kind of warfare; it aims at “victory”, at the subduing of a problem by means of a logic that predetermines this or that fact or event as having no intrinsic meaning. The missing ingredient in this type of thinking is the ability to edge one’s way to the heart of a problem through a process of ritual circling, a process grounded in acts of creative imagination. We may think we’ve shaken off our need for certainty and emotional security, but our poverty of imagination often indicates otherwise. Imagination can of course be a two-edged sword; it can be profound one minute and downright silly the next. It takes a decent level of awareness to get the balance just right.
Free inquiry and social agreement are considered dangerous by hardline Protestants and Catholics because they exempt nothing from human scrutiny – there is only experience interpreted in the light of further experience – revelation and divine guidance are considered out of the question. This view is however a backfiring of Protestant principles in the sense that “every man deciding for himself” lies at the heart of the Reformation,3 and this has led to Protestant protestations turning into secular humanist ideals. Pandora’s Box opened with the Reformation, and hardline Christians have been trying to shut it again ever since. But there is a further anomaly here, for secular humanism’s either/or approach to reality has also infected Christian thinking. It’s either Christianity or science, Christianity or psychology, Christianity or philosophy, indeed, Christianity or anything other than what hardline Christianity has to offer. Reverse this procedure and you have hardline secular humanism’s equally rigid stance, a stance based on a not dissimilar cast of mind. And so myth, symbol and paradox are sidelined by hardline Christians as too confusing, too fickle, indeed, too dangerous to consider alongside what they believe to be “revealed” truth, and hardline humanists follow suit with what amounts to a studied disregard for anything that allows “ambiguity” and “uncertainty” to challenge what they think of as the “hard facts” of existence. Hard facts exist, but so also do maddeningly indeterminate states of mind and matter that stretch the imagination and challenge the senses. Reality, as is now becoming evident from various studies, may not be as neat a parcel of physical, psychological and social events as we’ve come to assume.
According to secular humanism, all phenomena are subservient to the basic laws of matter, and that includes mental phenomena. Mind is no more than an epiphenomenon of the brain. We are born, we live, we die, and that’s the end of it. Human beings are both creature and creator; they form and shape themselves in the world.4 Christians of “faith” have a different approach. For them, God is the creator of all things, and in being the creator, is also the “sustainer” of all things – all of life, all of history, is in His hands.5 For the secular humanist, there is no creator, no sustainer, just a continuous evolutionary development towards mind that may some day reach unimaginable levels of comprehension. Problem is, it’s hard to keep this mindless trend towards mind in its place; there is a tendency, even among hardheaded rationalists, to inadvertently personalise the evolutionary process.6 The claim would be that this is just a loose way of talking, a colloquial convenience, but behind it may lie the spectre of “agency”, the idea of a mysterious “something” in nature controlling and guiding the evolutionary process towards a utopian conclusion. Which suggests that as Christians have imbibed at the humanist well and come away with an either/or complex that renders discussion with them all but impossible, secular humanists are perhaps still hostage to the unconscious suspicion that their mindless universe isn’t quite as mindless as they so vehemently contend. The universe as “object” is a pretty impressive affair; it can sometimes spark off a sense of awe verging on intellectual vertigo.
One of the ironies in this situation is that as the early humanists strove to revive the unencumbered approach of classical learning, Christians armed with humanism’s new-found skills in history and philology sought a similarly unencumbered view of early Christianity. The complexities of Scholastic theology had not only hindered intellectual development across Europe, it had also obscured the message of the New Testament to such an extent that thoughtful Christians felt the need to reassess it’s historical and spiritual underpinnings.7 So was born the beginnings of critical Christian scholarship, Christianity’s first faltering steps towards a re-evaluation of its own beliefs, and of the history in which those beliefs were embedded. But with a twist. Such endeavours helped created a split in Christian thinking that developed into the liberal, conservative and evangelical/fundamentalist divide, and out of this divide came the “Deists”, who perceived God as a hypothesis required by reason, and the “mystics”, who for centuries had claimed to experience God not as a being, but as a profound and transforming silence of being. Christian mystics continue to claim an experiential understanding of God as “silence”, or “depth”, whereas faith-based Christians rely on verbalised prayers, praise and articulations of need framed as requests. The far reaches of intellect or mystical experience hold little interest for those who believe their God thinks thoughts, comes to decisions and sometimes behaves like a hugely inflated human being with a short temper. For them, the language of a sacred book has come to rule their hearts and minds – the Bible is now the “voice of God” speaking directly to humanity in a kind of code. As such it is God in some incomprehensible and difficult to manage code-breaking sense. Hence the accusation by secular thinkers and Christian humanists that hardline Christians have come to worship a book instead of God – the conscious ego has, like the all-too-human Hercules in Greek mythology, invaded the underworld.
Back to Basics 1.2.
This raises the question of what was going on in the Old Testament with regard to those who claimed to be “prophets” speaking on God’s behalf. What was going on there? The God of the Old Testament inherited by Christianity was, as is obvious to any attentive reader of that document, a God capable of a burning fury even against those he was said to favour. In this context the American TV evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, functioning as modern-day prophets, saw the 9-11 attacks on American citizens as a consciously meted out punishment by this still operative God for their nation’s acceptance of feminist ideals, abortion clinics, homosexual unions and, last but not least, the secularisation of schools and courts. God would not be mocked, they said; and he might well retaliate further by allowing the enemies of America to work even greater devastation. What the American people had just experienced was probably no more than the “antechamber to the terror that was to come.”8
What a comforting thought to those grieving the loss of a loved ones in the 9-11 conflagration – they had died for no other reason than to satisfy this God’s appetite for vengeance – vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord.
That some Christians can think in this Talibanesqe fashion in the 21st century is worrying; that they can overlook the flaws in their own reasoning, even more worrying. But not at all surprising given the frame of mind within which such Christians move and have their being. God the “sustainer of all things” is in his heaven and all is right with the world to the extent that all historical events are believed to bolster His divine “master plan” of salvation – even events like 9-11. Jesus’ act of obedience in the garden of Gethsemane, and on the cross, is thought to allow sinners the chance to avoid eternal punishment for their sins, chief of which is their unwillingness to accept Christianity’s standard interpretation of New Testament events. God’s all-seeing eye cannot be avoided; he is judge, jury, and if necessary, executioner. You can liken this God to the Old Testament God and write him off as “brutal” if you like, but there is in fact no difference between the two: this was the God prayed to by Jesus, and it is the God prayed to today by Christians, Jews and Moslems. Problem is, what kind of mind sanctions a 9-11 type event, or submits other minds to the imponderable viciousness of eternal punishment?
Those who accept this kind of reasoning see everything their God does, or is believed to have done, through a special kind of lens, a rosy filter that allows what is anciently claimed as this God’s actions or thoughts seem right even when they are blatantly not right at all. But not all Christians are so literalist in their acceptance of Scripture, or of what the Christian imagination has dreamed up in the shape of speculative theology. Some are a little more circumspect, a little more careful in how they interpret instances of God-directed violence in the Bible. They use “tenor of the times” to let their God off the hook. These were tough, rough times, they will say; it was how people behaved way back then. But that is no argument at all, not really. If that were the case then no one in the history of the three great monotheistic religions could legitimately claim that God had actually instructed them in anything. If “tenor of the times” is used as an argument to explain the many acts of unconscionable violence in the Bible, then it means that all such communications can be interpreted in terms of what human beings thought their God was saying to them.
Hardline Christians are not deterred by such problems; in fact they’re not deterred by anything much – they simply ignore what ought to be obvious and submit both their intelligence and their commonsense to a perception of reality that flies in the face of everything generally held to be sensible – “faith” in a grocery list of “beliefs” overpowers reason and renders free inquiry invalid. The God who instructs his followers to dash out the brains of children and advocate the rape of their mothers (Isaiah 13: 3, 5, 9, 15-17) crosses the threshold of such minds not as literal fact, but as a happening suspended in another dimension of time and space. In this hived off realm, this anteroom of the mind, stuff that would normally horrify floats dreamily alongside myriad other anomalies of reason. Now we are all of us capable of holding irreconcilable things in our minds – the mind is capable of masterly deception even in relation to itself – but that is not an argument; it is a confession. Rational thinking and deep self-scrutiny generally eliminates the patently absurd. Not so in minds governed by hardline religious ideas. Such minds are, or become, oblivious to the anomalies they carry because of the illusion that their God is “conscious” in much the same way as they are conscious. Their God thinks thoughts, evaluates situations and reaches decisions. He also loves or hates, favours or rejects, saves or damns. Along with the Jewish God and the Islamic God, this God has a bit of a temper, and when he loses it you had better watch out.
Witness, by way of example, Osama bin Laden’s God in action. Bin Laden justified his reasons for mass murder on the basis of knowing, for sure, that his God not only hated those who did not do his hardline Islamic will, but that he wanted such people dead by any means. An extreme view, yes, and very Old Testament in tone – Old Testament prophets such as Elijah and Isaiah were of much the same mind – and one only avoided by later Christianity due to the rise and development of Renaissance humanism and the separation of Church and State. But alas, hardline, conservative Christianity is yet under the influence of such thinking, George Bush’s claim that God told him to invade Afghanistan and Iraq accepted without quibble. Bush’s political decisions cannot of course be equated with those of bin Laden’s, that would be an idiotic comparison. But it was/is Bush’s belief that America assists God-the-sustainer-of-all-things with a “master plan” for the world, and that includes, ironically, going against the beliefs and claims of the now dead Osama bin Laden, who believed more or less the same thing. The partially civilised God of Christianity is now vying with the all-powerful and not to be questioned God of Islam, and there’s no telling which aspect of this schizophrenic God is going to win the bout. Hopefully neither.
So was Bush serious when he said he had obeyed God’s directive to invade Afghanistan and Iraq? Had he in some sense heard God whispering inside his head? Or was it just that along with Tony Blair he thought that was what his God wanted, and by means of this intuition allowed a few stray thoughts to take on the tenor of a divine communication? This is not difficult to do. Children do it all the time through their imaginary friends, and psychotics are particularly good at it. For most people, however, the belief that God instructs in this way is no longer tenable – they know the voice in their head to be their own. The idea of a self-conscious deity with a master plan who dishes out orders and punishes for eternity has evaporated along with his equally preposterous antagonist the devil. There is no grand master plan, just silly little human beings continuing to do and believe silly things. Or is that just a “rationalisation”, a dismissal of something too difficult for the rational mind to take in? Well, it isn’t, actually; but we do have to be careful how we tread from here on in.
The ability of hardline Christians to overlook serious ethical anomalies in the Old Testament probably lies in the fact that they view New Testament and Old Testament happenings through the same mythic lens. Things were different way back then, they’ll say. These were “special times” in the history of the world. How else could Moses have parted the Red Sea, or Elijah have been carried off into heaven in a fiery chariot? Or Jesus have walked on water or fed a great multitude of people with nothing more than the contents of someone’s lunch box? Things were different then, very different; particularly when the Son of God turned up. Sorry, they were not different. Newton’s laws were in operation then just as they are now, and the complexity of the human mind and body led to many aberrant notions being viewed as self-evident truths. But there was, it has to be admitted, a precedent for this kind of thinking: the Jews of Jesus’ day perceived themselves to be living in a “special” time, a time when their God would destroy the Romans and Israel would be inaugurated as the central ethical nation in the Middle East. But that is not what happened. What happened was the destruction of the Jewish nation’s entire social and religious infrastructure and a re-evaluation of everything Jewish scholars had divined in their sacred writings. Someone had got their eschatological sums wrong. So also the followers of Jesus who, at the hands of St Paul, expected Jesus’ almost immediate return from heaven. That, too, did not take place. The fledgling Christian community which, for the sake of accuracy ought to be referred to as “Jewish-sectarian”, was scattered to the four winds along with their more orthodox Jewish counterparts. God’s kingdom on Earth did not materialise, just the might of the Roman army as usual.
The basic problem for all three Abrahamic faiths is, as already suggested, the notion that their God is in some sense “conscious”, that he thinks thoughts and exhibits emotions, that he works to timetables, that he has a master plan for the world and periodically intervenes in history, that he on one occasion got so angry he destroyed the whole human race except for one family and a few animals! Now let’s be fair, most Christians know instinctively that there is something intrinsically wrong with such a conception of their God; they know without being told that a God who is “transcendent” (not hemmed in by physical space or linear time) should not exhibit such basic human traits. To accept unquestioningly that he does is, in the more astute approach of the Christian humanist, to massively misunderstand the whole idea of God. Yes, the Old Testament talks of God in a curiously personal manner, but it’s just a way of talking, a way of controlling events, a way of placing emphasis on questions to do with Israel’s collective behaviour. When we read the words “God said,” or “the Lord sayeth,” we should understand that to mean human minds struggling to recognise individual and collective faults through acts of deep self-questioning; not that the God of Israel literally instructed his prophets on political and moral questions by a species of telephone.
These were early days in the development of the human mind; lots of things were attributed to external forces that would eventually be understood as belonging to the human realm alone. To see them as otherwise is to inadvertently fall back into the same mindset that produced them – a naive mindset governed by superstition and fear. Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, the Scriptures tell us, and that perfectly sums up the Christian, Jewish and Islamic belief that God is capable of terrible things if he doesn’t get his own way – that is, if what this God’s followers dream up inside their own heads isn’t adhered to by the rest of us. There is no doubting that fear helps to creates order in a society, but you have to keep tabs on the cost.
Hardline Christians will frown at such naivety. Surely God has the right, the divine right, to do whatever he wants? He is after all “God”, and being God cannot be judged by the same logic by which human beings are judged. That is certainly how the holy books portray God, but such descriptions should be seen through for what they are – a method of instilling certain behaviours and attitudes in others. Problem is, these prophets had a bad sales record – they were, more often than not, flatly rejected by Israel’s pragmatic rulers as either political busy bodies or as bothersome religious hot heads – the “Lord sayeth” tack was seldom taken at face value. And not just because Israel’s rulers were always God haters, or so caught up in their own ambitions that they were blind and deaf to God’s messengers. The prophets may well have been absolutely correct in their assessment of particular situations, but their claim to have divine approval for whatever came out of their mouth was understood to be an “intuition” of what Israel’s God wanted, not a “verbatim” message from God. It was a way of speaking, a method of delivery designed to concentrate attention on matters of importance, and Israel’s rulers were well aware of that. If questioned, I’m sure George Bush would not claim that God spoke to him audibly, just that he had spoken in his heart. (See 9.2. para 3.)
That the God of Israel could have functioned through human beings in such a literal fashion goes against how Christianity’s God is now conceived to have always been by thoughtful Christians. The brutal God of the Old Testament did not suddenly metamorphose into the more loving God of the New Testament via Jesus’ atoning death on the cross; he was never, it is now argued, actually like that at any time. A God who could advise his followers to slaughter men, women and children belonged to a primitive mind set, and that mind set has long since been abandoned by Jews, Christians and Moslems who have thought the whole messy business through. Many Christians now perceive their God as beyond what the human mind can comprehend with any certainty, and the Jews of Jesus’ time captured this bewildering aspect of their God by leaving their Temple’s Holy of Holies empty – an anomaly the polytheistic Romans could not get to grips with. Like the Jewish Christians and their pagan converts, however, they could not shake off the ancient suspicion that their God did sometimes involve himself in the affairs of men. There were too many historically recorded incidents (mythos under the rule of logos) for this to be entirely ruled out, the parting of the Red Sea for one. Detecting exactly “when” or “how” God would intervene was of course problematic, but it was not altogether impossible. The secret was in guessing what your God wanted to happen in any given situation, and that came through using Scripture as a timeless overview of all reality. Obedience to what you believed to be God’s will came next, and the key to divining that depended on how certain you felt about your guesswork. Scripture was more than the “word of God” come down to us in book form; it was God speaking directly to everyone simultaneously. The voice of the prophets had been replaced by Scripture, the “dictated” word of God that could be neither changed nor contradicted. So goes the general theory, and it has led to many a disappointment, for one can never be absolutely sure where one stands in relation to this God’s wishes. The prophetic code of ancient Scripture is not easy to break in relation to modern events – the pieces cannot be made to clip together without coercion. And if things don’t turn out quite as expected, then you have only yourself to blame – you can’t blame God, can you?
So was born dependency on a series of books termed “sacred” or “holy”, a virtual disabling of the mind where individuals or groups ended up at the mercy of forces they themselves had written into existence. And all because of too literal a reading of the sacred texts, and the unthinking acceptance of a God conceived to be “conscious” as human beings are conscious. An understandable mistake in Biblical times, or even a couple of centuries ago, but not so today given our level of knowledge and mental sophistication. The Enlightenment’s emphasis on “reason” in the eighteenth-century is said to have won the day, but as evidenced by today’s hardline Christians, there are still those around who hanker after the old way of thinking, the old certainty of believing that Scripture is God’s unalterable manual for daily life – every jot and tittle of life. Such thinkers continue to see everything in black and white terms; it’s either/or with no shades of grey. You’re either a “saved believer” or a “damned unbeliever”, a “theist” or an “atheist”; there are no states or levels between those two – agnosticism is anathema. Christian literalists use this either/or methodology to strengthen their take it or leave it attitude to Biblical claims and directives, and, as we have noted, some humanists are not far behind with a similar dislike of fence-sitting – it’s “hard” science or nothing. To the hardline Christian an agnostic is all but an atheist; to a hardline humanist all but a theist.
A God embroiled in petty human emotions writ large is an undeveloped (infantile?) conception of God which mature Christian thinkers reject. A God postulated as not bound by space and time simply can’t be stepped down to our emotional level – He (He?) is safe from projections of the human mind. Which raises an interesting question: who is in the greatest danger when the old conception of God is adhered to? Us, or God? Well, God of course; he remains trapped in the ancient template of deity and awaits liberation at human hands. Now that’s quite turn around, when you think about it. And there’s nothing untoward in thinking this way; it’s completely sensible when you admit to yourself that this type of Olympian God is really no God at all, just an historical assemblage that we have to dismantle for our own good.
Free Inquiry and Social Agreement 1.3.
Free inquiry is the hallmark of authentic secular and Christian humanism, and it necessitates a rigorous intellectual honesty from both parties. Hardline Christians feel threatened by such honesty; it carries too high a price in terms of their fixed system of belief. Free inquiry, they will argue, is not as disciplined an approach to the forming of questions and the finding of answers as is generally supposed. It is, rather, an undisciplined free-for-all, a questioning of anything and everything for the sheer sake of it; it is a form of mental anarchy. And as evidenced in all Western, and Western-influenced, societies, it leads to a breakdown in the dignity of thought itself. If your life is based on the belief that human existence is backed by a great meaningless nothing, then on what basis does one strive to live a decent life? It is at this point that today’s secular humanist hits a problem, for there is a terrible truth lurking inside this simple accusation. Is secular humanism’s vision of a meaningless, pointless, Godless universe an ultimately sensible and sustainable state of mind, or is it the unwitting death knell of everything we collectively hold dear? Will we destroy ourselves and our planet for want of a more robust theory of complexity, a more penetrating approach to questions of ultimate concern? Might we find, if we tried a little harder, an approach to self, other, God and reality beyond the polarising effect of “belief” and “unbelief”? And is it realistic for secular humanists to believe that their values and vision are sufficient for the well-being of society as a whole, and that forms of thought not in strict accordance with a science-based, ultra rational reading of reality are without foundation?9
This is to ask if the physically-based scientific viewpoint is in itself sufficiently sophisticated to encompass all of reality’s offerings. The growing suspicion is that it is not. In fact it now seems pretty obvious that an attitudinal change in humanist and Christian thinking is long overdue. There are just too many important questions hanging in the air for both parties to remain complacent, too many anomalous situations arising in science, psychology, philosophy and the hugely complex area of historical Christianity for things to remain as they are.