Thought Archive

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Humans and God

Karen Armstrong in her History of God makes – amongst many others I shall list later – a very interesting observation on religion nature of human beings:

Humans started worship gods as soon as they had become recognizably human.
It was not tacked to a primordially secular nature by manipulative kings or priests but was natural to humanity. Indeed current secularism is an entirely new experience unprecendented in human history. We have yet to see how it will work. Our ethical secular ideal has its own disciplines of mind and heart and gives people faith in ultimate meaning of life that were provided by more conventional religions. It is impossible not to have a religion in this sense.
Thus religion is something innate in humans at one level - and also something cultivated at a different level, which is rather like art or poetry. At one level everyone can proclaim a belief, but real iman (faith) has to be cultivated – and not by therapy or new age yoga sessions. It takes a person greatest effort to achieve this strong and all-encompassing faith; this is not achieved by idle speculation about Holy Books – for this is irrelevant for a true mystic.

The greatest error of those who assume that God is an objective reality – a Being to be supported and fought against – is that they fight or support something that does not really exist. Here both sides of the argument are rather irreligious or faithless for they attach attributes to God, attributes that are human and emotional.

As Hadith Qudsi says “ I was a hidden Treasure and I yearned to be known. Thus I created people to be known by them”. There is no rational proof of God’s sadness; it can only be deduced from our perpetual longing for the embrace with the Absolute. Each human being is a unique epiphany of a Hidden God, manifesting him in a particular and unrepeatable manner.


Riri said...

I think that there is a dimension of God which is revealed through Nature and the physical realm that surrounds us and that is wonderfully understandable to us. But it is true that faith in God cannot be reached by objectivity alone, the whole of the human being has got to be involved logic, heart and soul.

In the end, it's about comfort. Humans need to believe in something comforting and trustworthy. After that it is a question of degrees of absoluteness, some are satisfied with the boudaries of this physical world, some look beyond that, some can't even get past their own body. It could be argued that all these are forms of deities I suppose. In Islamic literature, it is reported that after death, each soul is asked: "Who is your God?", I think this is very interesting, because it implies that every human soul has the potential to develop various degrees of God consciousness.

NoolaBeulah said...

One of the many useful functions of religions is to channel this need for meaning, to bind it with tradition and slow the pace of fulfillment that humans often demand. Most religions postpone the ultimate meaning (union with God) either until after death or into a future that always recedes (the Day of Judgement; the final coming of the Messiah). Though they can warp into violent surges (Christianity in its hunts for heretics and outsiders; Islam and its Jihadis), established religions have generally sought to control their 'enthusiasts'. No-one, for example, is more suspicious of a 'saint' than the Catholic Church.

One of the dangers of secularism is that the framework of authority and tradition is undermined. This can result in political religions (Fascism and Communism), who, with no God to answer to, have no restraint either. It can also result in people believing anything that satisfies - environmentalism has lots of this sort of adherent. They display many signs of displaced religion: the way they react to doubt (the great secular virtue) and doubters; the way they assign guilt, especially as mass guilt (as with Original Sin, it is humanity itself that is 'wrong'); their need for a Great Satan figure; their intrusion into every aspect of life, public and private.

"It takes a person greatest effort to achieve this strong and all-encompassing faith; this is not achieved by idle speculation about Holy Books – for this is irrelevant for a true mystic."

What you say here, Nazim, is correct, but not relevant for most people. That sort of religious feeling is very, very rare, and perhaps not the point for the majority of mankind. It is not the only aspect of religion that counts - that would be like saying that, unless you can be Pele, you're not a footballer.

The concept of God needing people is a fascinating one. I've come across it in Jewish writers, in particular, but also in Christian ones. I think this is a good example of the way religion elevates humanity, demands more of it, helps it to behave better.

Riri said...

For me the concept of God needing humans makes me uncomfortable. But I guess it depends what is intended by need. The way we need God is different from the way He might be speculated to need us. The way I see it is that He simply wants us to know Him and love Him because we would be elevated by this knowledge, we would then put our foot on the first step of the ladder to divine infinity that our intelligent consciousness permits us to achieve.

But why should God want us to achieve that? Why should it matter? Does it matter for Him? I think the answer to this requires first that we take a stand point on whether God is a conscious intelligent power that is involved with creation, or an unconscious unintelligent power that is not involved with creation. Because for me conscious intelligence would necessarily need to involve itself with its creation and want it to do well or achieve the goal it's been created for. If God is a conscious intelligent power, it is not unreasonable to expect Him to inspire and guide creation. Does this mean He needs us? I wouldn't go that far, but I have no problem believing He wants us to use our special gift of consciousness in the best way possible, the best way He thinks is possible for us. Because if it was simply about obedience and worship, God would have been contented with Angels.

I say this and am conscious it sounds pathetically human-like, but doesn't religion says humans have aspark of the divine?

Riri said...

Each human being is a unique epiphany of a Hidden God, manifesting him in a particular and unrepeatable manner.

So if we were to unfold every single human soul that has ever or will ever live, will we end up with a gigantic hologram of the Divine? Or will some souls just not contain any relevant information to the Divine? Will they then act as negative control blanks?

Hazar Nesimi said...

Let's put it this way. Sometimes when we talk about "God" we talk past each other and mean different things, concepts or "beings" even for traditional scriptural sense;it is the easiest conversation to get wrong. God of mystics and philosophers is not the same God as the God of comfort to an everage believer, and yet He is One for All. Each men has element of the Divine, each man is a sacred being - not just a Sufi master who attained a Divine presensence and became "Insan Al-Kamil". It will be grossly unfair on humanity if some people were more blessed than others. However, majority of us will go through life - and maybe us too - unaided by an inner light, unwilling perhabs to open the inner Temples of our souls. And God in His unlimited mercy "forgives" majority of us who are not saintly.

One of the names of Allah is Sustainer and Cherisher - The One who Sustains us in life. That is, if you take this sustenance out we will have nothing left and will feed on dregs and drips. There will be - in words of Jean-Paul Sartre a great hole in Human soul, where God had been. A mystic is hungry for more susteanance, for he is insatiable irrationalist, and philosopher is in no need of one because he is sustained by his rational knowledge. But what about the rest?

Riri said...

But isn't this the whole point of God if I may express myself so profanely?! If every human being regardless of their culture, intellectual baggage, emotional profile, biological construction sat down and listened very very carefully to their profound being (as profound as they can possibly get to, obviously some will run out of air sooner than others, diving requires practice and patience and genuine interest in what lies in the depths), if everyone does this, then according to religion everyone cannot possibly fail to meet God. All other creation experiences the power of God constantly, He is the sustainer of all that exists. Where we differ is that our inquisitive intellect ensures that we get distracted by all sorts of pursuits which could eventually lead us to grow very arrogant, self-satisfied and defiant attitudes. This is our undoing, precisely that. If we get to that stage, we lock ourselves with respect to God. That's why I believe the default setting for us all should really be agnosticism, then we take it from there.

Of course God is One, but humans cannot really grasp this huge Onness, because it cannot be compared to any other thing that can be grasped and accessed by our senses. I do believe that each one of us, even hardened atheists, believe in God. What differs is our interpretation of what He should mean to us. That is why in the end, nobody can judge others based on their religion. The relationship between a being and God is the most intimate one there will ever be. This is one of the aspects I find most tedious in organised religions, their hypocritical superficial aspect. But then, you can't say these people have gone astray, because regardless of some aspects of their silly superstitious behaviour, there may lie a genuine faith that is striving to endure, pure souls like described in holy books.

Riri said...

Plus I believe that religious rituals have a useful purpose: they bring people together in a spirit of unity, they have a very cohesive power in society. I do pray, fast etc, and for me, I feel it gives me the chance to take a break from mundane modern life, get a chance to try and reconnect with God, pray for better spiritual fulfillment. I think prayer is very therapeutic and so is fasting, but what makes them so is the belief they are so, not the actions themselves or the words I say.

I say this to make the point that religious rituals are actually a positive thing, but of course, many people will seek to over-complicate them and the whole wisdom is lost on them. That's the fault of humans though, not religion.