The fruitless search for a mutual God through sight and sound.
– Continued from my previous blog …
I’d like to think that two of the people I briefly mentioned, Buddha and Wittgenstein (both relevant here for their contributions to the understanding of the limitations of knowledge) were alluding more or less to what I’ve said about what we’re capable of understanding (through words or through visualization) about what something like “God” would be.
If it’s true that we could never really draw a realistic view of what something like God could be, we could never really prescribe any characteristics to it (good or bad) … that includes “loving”.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of doing either (good or bad). When we see a baby born we saw “God is good”; when we see it killed in a massacre we think “God is bad”.
In both cases we would be applying the acts of this benevolent force to the outcome (happy baby, dead baby). This seems illogical.
One of the most common definitions of God that I’ve heard repeated is that “God is Love”. I hear it from religious people, I see it written in front of churches. I don’t really see a basis for that conclusion.
Love is an emotional state. It’s a human emotion, for one (I’m not exactly sure if animals experience love).
Certainly, though love, is a human idea – it’s based on our personality traits. We all love differently – we all use different words to express our “love”. We all have differing definitions of what love is. We also have different abstract concepts of what God might be; although, because we’ve grown up in a world where we’ve been exposed to the same visual stories, many of us may have come to the same sort of conclusion about love, or God.
For instance, we might have concluded that love is a Disney story, or something akin to that – that’s what we’ve been taught from a very young age. That’s a fallacy, though, as any adult knows – as anyone who has been in a relationship knows, there is no “happily ever after”. Certainly becoming married, falling in love, is the beginning of a relationship … something much more concrete, observable and tangible than “love”. In fact, a long term relationship … or friendship, is more understandable practically than the term love.
We can understand friendship. Friendship works in terms of loyalty – it occurs over time, through observable actions reaffirming this loyalty. It occurs through acts of altruism, kindness and social reciprocation. In the observable sense, the notion of a “friendship” as a relationship is a much easier concept to understand than “love” is.
Some people simply define love as an “act”. One of altruism, kindness – sacrifice. The jury is out, though, on what motivates an individual to act in an altruistic way. Even some of the most altruistic acts and actors in history, understandably, had psychological motivators working in force to create their “altruism”. Mother Theresa was motivated by the idea that she needed to bring the word of God to the denying to save them from damnation, for instance.
Back to Wittgenstein, though, language doesn’t really begin to offer us an explanation or precise notion of the fact or non-fact of “love”. If we can’t describe it, even as a human behavior, we can scarcely begin to apply it to a supreme being. Again, then, it would seem absurd to apply this loose or completely vapid word to a supreme being. The word is hollow, though, when deconstructed.
This person using it might “mean” something, at that moment – and this is not to say that those people are lesser, or that their conviction is in question – but what is in question is the pure meaning of what they’re saying with these words.
Back then to our visual concept of God as the overriding crutch upon which we lean to understand the concept.
Humans are capable of fusing the visual and linguistic concepts to create highly esoteric experiences – perhaps the most spiritual experiences in existence. These experiences are the defining characteristics of a human being in many spiritual peoples eyes.
These experience also defined the lives of the most important spiritual people of all time: Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, etc. They all experienced moments or lifetimes into the esoteric idea of God, or received transmission from him (as we’re told). Of course, as we’ve discussed, these transmission must have occurred either through words or through visions.
There’s simply nothing else available to us.
Cognitively, constructing “God” based on these two tools is highly dubious – since both tools simply rely on earlier learning experiences (we understand something through our understanding of a previous thing. we don’t simply understand something in a vacuum, relating to nothing.)
That brings us back to the oft heard conclusion amongst the religious or the spiritual that “God is love”; or some variation of this mantra.
You could point out, after a short exercise like this one, that this mantra is really empty.
It’s an exercise designed to overcome the fact that when we apply systematic reasoning to the idea itself, we yield nothing.
The greatest teachers were those that did not persist to warn us OFF the use of our rational mind, or of critical analysis, or of deconstruction. The greatest minds were the ones that practiced this very form of deconstruction; those that put their beliefs aside to test what was and what wasn’t. God is love – God isn’t love … I’ve decided this means nothing.
You’ll draw your own conclusions about it. Either way, it’s still the central concept that binds most socially religious concepts together. The shared notion of this visual/linguistic God is the basis of each “church”. Truly, though, I don’t know what individuals mean when they transmit this word-based knowledge to one another.
I’m not sure, at all, if when people discuss love, in real time, they have even vaguely the same concept in mind. It’s perfectly reasonable to conclude that these individuals have no sense of what they mean – or if one or the other days, there would be no particular way to share it. The idea would be modular (i.e. it’s specific to them both, and it can’t ever really be transmitted – we can’t POINT at love.)
In this sense, Zen is a word as well. Many Zen buddhists and Monks have fallen into the trap of thinking their visualizations, mantras, prayers or beads or rosaries represent something. They’ve forgotten the teachings of their ancestors – the patriarchs, the the very opposite of this idea is true.
The truth is specific to every individual – it’s beholden to each, hidden within us. It’s what’s left after the critical analysis of life events themselves – when the analysis of life events has become exhausted.
Descartes used this exercise and the product of it was Western Philosophy – hyperbolic doubt.
I’ve often heard that “thinking” is poisonous to spiritual understanding. Nothing could be further from the truth. It’s only through this rational thinking; through exhausting it, that we can rest assured (rest in total assurance) that there is nothing left to investigate.
But, also, that we can rest in a sense of peace that can’t be applied to an form of understanding that relies upon anything tangible; anything based on words – images, based on anything the mind creates.
What’s true is what’s left when all of that is gone – however slippery.