5 APRIL 2015
BELEIVING IN GOD
While each of us develops our own beliefs depending upon our own personality, experiences and immediate environment, there are some broader parameters that effect the likely conclusion we arrive at. One of those influences which has broadly shaped humanity’s understanding is history.
PANIKKAR’S FOUR STAGES
Raimon Panikkar has described a valuable reflection upon several eras of history…four in fact… to illustrate the importance of our historical context.
FIRSTLY, he speaks of the most primitive era of humans and describes their notion of God as a dominant being. Flood fire, famine, earthquake, cyclone etc. created the context for the earliest form of human to feel like they lived within a world dominated by the whim of a dominant God.
The SECOND stage of history emerged with the agrarian era, whereby people learnt to co-operate with nature. They learnt that if you cared for the land, planted seeds and allowed it to grow harvest time would provide the food for a community to survive the year. This agrarian era meant that co-operation with nature gradually shaped the belief that God was someone to be co-operated with.
The THIRD stage of history was the era we termed the industrial age, whereby with the advancing knowledge we learnt that we could extract the riches of creation and use them for our benefit. It became popular to believe that God did not control our universe but that all things lay in our own hands.
This dismissal of God from our lives was crystallized in the famous but often misunderstood saying by the great German philosopher Nietzsche that “God was dead” by which he meant that we had expunged God from our lives. God had become inconsequential to humanity. Much modern attitude has been built upon such an assumption.
For Panikkars FOURTH and present stage, we move from this industrial age in which we generally believed we could dominate the earth, into the era of the new science of the twentieth century that he calls the “Artificial era”.
In this era we can create the world that we want. We build houses, apartment buildings, schools, work places, hospitals cities, etc, etc, etc, in which we create and control the environment. We turn on our split heating system, we have developed advanced entertainment systems. Our white goods are morphing into highly developed robots that can even duplicate the need for companionship. We can even create artificial body parts that replace the malfunctioning biological human organ or limb. And so the artificial world develops and provides a new context for the way we may believe or not believe in God.
For the first time in history, we now live in a world we call ‘secular’ - a society in which we have become our own God.
HAWKING AND JUNG
One of the truly amazing figures of our generation is surely Steven Hawking, the great scientist with the motor neurone condition. His field of research is mathematics, physics and cosmology. He leads a great field of similar scientists in helping us understand the make up of our physical universe.
His story is made available to ‘we’ common people via the cinema and television series. His popular books have been best sellers. He has declared his opinion that respectfully we have proved we no longer need to believe in God.
Another field of study that has greatly influenced our understanding of life is the field of psychology. It has looked deeply into our mind and traced patterns of thought and emotion to give us a map for understanding our inner personality.
Freud and Jung were the two earliest commonly known explorers of this realm of life. Many have followed and built upon their insights.
In contrast to Freud, Jung became well known for his BBC radio interview in which he was asked did he believe in God’s existence. He replied, “I don’t just believe in God’s existence. I know God exists.”
These great personalities typify the great philosophical options before us.
On the one hand, a natural world order best described by scientific examination, or on the other hand a world best perceived as spiritual with a reality way beyond the natural material domain.
The former scientific philosophy typified by Hawking is described as a reductionist approach because the context it establishes for itself is the material world.
The second, the spiritual is the belief that reality is infinite ranging from the limits of the material to the infinite of the mind. It is wholistic and it embraces all domains of knowledge and experience as real. It integrates all.
It is this spiritual domain of the infinite that we are here to celebrate today. As I described earlier, the way we relate to the world of our time shapes the formation of our belief system.
As our knowledge of history has expanded we have come to recognize that in cultures across the globe, various luminaries, Buddha, Confuscius, Moses to name but a fleeting few have revealed the discovery of a domain of reality that displays a commonality and which we speak of as spiritual.
The natural context of our living is merely the tip of the iceberg. The extraordinary insights of these spiritual luminaries have resonated with people of all time. Despite the popularity of the scientific paradigm of reality, millions today still believe in a reality we encapsulate in the term God.
For the Christian, Jesus is the great master of life. He shared wisdom on the way people might best live amongst one another.
‘A new commandment I give you that you love one another as I have loved you.’
‘I say love your enemies, do good to them.’
‘No greater love is there than a person can lay down his life for his fellow human.’
He taught this and he lived it. In doing this ultimately he faced and challenged the ultimate boundaries of our material reality. Even today in which the great scientists of our time are bound by time and space, Jesus opened creations doorway to domains of reality that are beyond time and space.
Through his death and resurrection he opened life to the reality of the infinite. And his key is love. It multiplies and it never ever dies.
We call this life resurrection life. It is comprehensive and has no boundaries. Without love, the scientific paradigm is in St. Pauls words just, ‘a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.’ With love science is the handmaid of the divine absolute. There is a pathway before us. There is a fork in the road. Is it not time for more and more of us to take the road less traveled?