On hearing “There is no God, and Mary is His Mother.”

On hearing “There is no God, and Mary is His Mother.” March 4, 2024

George Santayana
(Wiki Commons)



My friend Ken Ireland, one of my smarter friends, observed recently that there is no God. And that Mary is his mother.

I said, oh my. That’s the truth of the matter. The deep intimation of the spiritual life in this world of tears. The doors and windows that opens for us.

And he said, “James. It’s a quote from George Santayana.”

Why has no one told me about George Santayana before? While somewhere along the line I earned several degrees, my formative education is rather worse than spotty.

But how could I miss this guy?

On the negative side of the ledger. He spent the majority of his last years comfortably in Fascist Italy. And apparently he held the superiority of certain races (we can guess which), and was all in for eugenics.

Negatives that cannot be ignored. But it doesn’t stop there. As someone said we’re none of us our worst action. Or thought. Although it speaks to a worm in the heart of his thinking. It suggests a sense of superiority, a sense of knowing what is, that can rot a whole barrel…

These negatives warns me to be careful. Including in that care my own thinking.

And there’s quite the positive side of the ledger.

Santayana’s such a fascinating blend of several approaches to the world. Most of them so resonant for me. First, maybe, his Epiphenomenalism, which seems to me hard to avoid. I am thoroughly naturalistic. I don’t like materialist, which I note is what I look like, often. But everything is going to be found within this world. Of that I’m pretty confident. Although, as an example of my hesitations, and we can see it in how my understanding modifies epiphenomenalism, I do feel there’s something of a feedback loop and that mental states do have some effect in the material world. But, you disperse the physical, and the mental goes away.

Then there’s his “Metaphysical naturalism,” which sounds like a more sophisticated explication of what I’ve been calling naturalistic perennialism. Although he may or may not share a sense of some natural state of awakening to intimacy. Still, another and perhaps deep insight into something about us as humans and how we meet the world. His sense of myth feels critical in this project.

And “aesthetic Catholicism,” which appears to be where the rubber hits the road in his life. It sounds like a variation of my own lived religious life between Buddhism and Christianity. here where I try to live my spiritual life, but unhappily. For me more aesthetically attracted to the forms of Anglicanism, but intellectually conforming to the intuitions of Unitarian Universalism, itself rooted in a bare but intense Zen Buddhism, I hear something in his aesthetic Catholicism.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the terms metaphor and myth and a mythic consciousness. I suspect he has a serious handle on that matter.

From that place Santayana declares, “There is no God and Mary is His Mother.” And I hear a living truth. Cascades of invitation.

And wonder…

I see challenges and perhaps invitations in his reflections – as I experience them from a couple of secondary articles.

My lament. I’m seventy-five. And I feel I’ve not even scratched the surface of our human wisdoms.

Stupid one life…


About James Ishmael Ford
James Ishmael Ford's next book, the Intimate Way of Zen: Effort, Surrender, and Awakening on the Spiritual Journey is due from Shambhala in July, 2024. It is currently available for pre-order at Amazon. You can read more about the author here.
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