What We Know

We are part of something greater than ourselves, something that may well be infinite.

It gave rise to us – “created” us, if you will, through the unfolding of various processes.

We cannot see it from the outside, cannot know if referring to it as “it” fits less well than using a personal pronoun. Does this reality that transcends and incorporates persons such as ourselves likewise transcend terms such as personal and impersonal?

We see in the wider universe what we see in ourselves.

Some look at the vast stretches of empty space and see evidence of meaninglessness. But if we look within we see empty space as well. If we stood on the edge of an atomic nucleus and looked out, the distance would overwhelm us, and perhaps persuade us then too that there is no interconnectedness, no greater structure, no meaning.

And yet that atom might be within a person, within you or me, and the lives we live which incorporate that atom we and others might indeed consider meaningful.

There are connections, but we do not always see them. Remember that the space between us is no greater than the space within us.

If we ask the question “Is there a God?”, what answer should be given? If one means specific gods depicted in ancient texts interpreted literally, then of course such entities, seemingly part of this vast universe and less than it, are placed in serious doubt, although there are traditions going back deep into antiquity of taking such stories as symbols of the very sorts of transcendence we do encounter in reality.

But if we ask if there is something greater than ourselves, which encompasses us and gives rise to us, and which is a mystery we cannot fathom but which inspires in us awe and wonder…how could we possibly say “no”?

There are some things we claim to know with certainty when the evidence may not support it sufficiently to persuade others, or when it is something deeply personal rather than general. Yesterday as I drove to work, the sound of Vaughan Williams and the billowing clouds in the autumn sky moved me. But I cannot assume that they would move everyone in the same way. Why is it that we can disagree about such matters, and yet the very similar domain of religious beliefs, language and symbolism leads to heated conflict?

What would happen if all of us who share this sense of awe and wonder at our existence, and a value for life as rare, precarious and precious, focused on what unites us rather than on those things about which we disagree?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/03089281236217906531 Scott F

    Sadly there are people who think anyone who doesn’t appreciate Vaughan Williams is an ignorant Philistine. And this is a minor, non-worldview-affecting, issue.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    Nice try….We are, as nationalities,and those identification factors, i.e. values, are too different to come to unity. How is a nation that values the individual and our Bill of Rights, ever see eye to eye with nations that are defined by a narrow, confining religious ideology? We can’t.We Americans, especially the educated elite, better wake up and understand that there are many things they do not know. We are interconnected, yes, but that does not preclude the question about how the interconnections are to be defined, otherwise, there would be no debate around unity of purpose in NATO,or our national interests where it concerns globalization or anything else…no, the dialogue will always be one of difference. And even diplomacy does not work with those who know the ‘absolute’, whether that is in the religious realm, or in national interests….we must be a people that believe in the Bill of Rights first and foremost, otherwise, we will become oppressive in the interest of our understanding of the ‘absolute”….

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11335631079939764763 Bob MacDonald

    Very nice try and impactWhen I consider thy heavens …

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08679219000850929665 Hugh

    Hi JamesGreat blog . Been stopping by for 6 months or so via Paleojudaica and the NT Gateway .Very interesting for those of us who regard religion as a quest rather than an assent to dogma .Anyhows , you’re post reminded me of Chet Raymo via his Science Musings blog …http://www.sciencemusings.com/blog/and his book …. WHEN GOD IS GONE , EVERYTHING IS HOLY .Keep up the good work …..Regards …Hugh .

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12617299120618867829 Angie Van De Merwe

    I’m just wondering, in light of some things I have read this morning,…Just as the Church has alway struggled to come to terms with how they have understood faith, at that point in time…who Jesus was…the Eucharist…Church government…Now, it seems, not only are we struggling to define god within the framework of science, but we are struggling to understan our faith within the political realm, which includes human identitification…I have just come to rest in an undefined faith, where there is no more struggle, but an acceptance of life…an Ecclesiastical kind of faith. God is not intervening, nor is there any mandate to convert, nor is there a necessity to “do”, but to “be”…Maybe it was the death of religion and a coming into myself, understanding that who I am with my own quirkness, convictions, or lack of them is ok and that with that in mind, I can say “yes” or “no” without any inhibition over another’s reaction….I almost wrote that I could accept another’s faith, but when it comes to human rights, I cannot…”Infidel” by Aaran Hirshi Ali, a Somalian woman who escaped an arranged marriage, fled to the Netherlands, served on the Dutch Parliament, and is now at the American Enterprise Institute in D.C. tells of the atrocities that happened to her, as a Muslim girl and young woman. Horrendous acts of inhumanity…I was greatly affected by it. And have come to admire her from afar. She is an atheist and she works against religious teaching in our schools as she fears Muslim infilteration.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02561146722461747647 James F. McGrath

    Hugh, thanks for the link. I’ve read some things by Raymo and found them helpful, and so I’ve added his blog to my blogroll.Scott, I will resist commenting about people who fail to appreciate Vaughan Williams, except to say that it certainly causes as much shock as when one encounters someone who fails to appreciate your religion (or lack thereof)! :)


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