CBC Radio steered me toward British author Karen Armstrong, and subsequently toward a documentary based on her book "A History of God." It has been illuminating, especially in light of my last blog entry. As Armstrong traces the history, unfolding and evolving human understanding of God, I was astonished that this phenomenon is even possible. Because, in fact, an understanding of God is a personal one. Faith cannot be passed from one person to the next, one generation to the next. Faith can only be attained on an individual level, and as such always starts from zero.
I am intrigued by Armstrong's idea of Monotheism, rather than Christianity or Judaism or Islam. The notion that any monotheistic faith, and even many of the polytheistic faiths that assert a high god, or god of gods, come from one original truth of a Supreme being. Each religion asserts doctrine, but is that doctrine really just a collection of current understanding, based on history, culture, and experience? Are we confusing doctrine with what is actually ritual? Even tracing the evolution of God through the bible, we can see how different generations related to God differently, worshiped differently, and therefore understood differently.
James and I had a conversation about a recent movie that explored a "fifth dimension." I asserted that to even discuss the idea was useless, because it involved the absence of time. The human mind is bound by time, and cannot contemplate existence not bound by its parameters. Even our discussions on the absence of time (paradoxically) dissect it in relation to it (by saying "the absence of time" you are using time in its very definition.) Every method James started to use to try and convey the concept of a dimension without time had some start, some end, some movement from A to B, one thought following another, the mind focussing on one thing then the next: all of these implying existing chronologically. And so the conversation was shut down. There was no way a time-bound mind could truly understand what it is to exist without time.
In the same way, I see that for a finite mind to understand the infinite is futile. We have constructed ways to relate to God only in relation to our finite experience: as the one who created us, as the one who gives us instruction for life, as the one who inspires us to good. But these again are simply ways to relate to God, not to explain or understand him. Everything God has given us, through word or revelation, is a small attempt to give enlightenment (or appeasement) to humanity, a temporary morsel to get us through to the eternities.
"We are reaching for the future
We are reaching for the past
And no matter what we have we reach for more
We are desperate to discover
What is just beyond our grasp
But maybe that's what heaven is for."
- Hilary Weeks