THAT WHICH

Some `believe in God.’ Others reject the idea because it’s irrational and the irrational is not a demonstrable thing.

Belief and disbelief are beset by doubt. If we say we `believe in God,’ the word belief itself invokes the possibility that god may not be. The atheist is caught in the same predicament: maybe there is somebody up there after all. If each statement contains its own built-in doubt, then belief and rejection are equally frivolous. Believers and scoffers could put their minds to better use.

I should mention, though, that Chesterton’s sleuth Father Brown says in his story The Oracle of the Dog that when people cease to believe in God they lose their common sense. And I think sometimes this is true. People long so ardently to `believe in’ something that they read horoscopes, indulge in ‘mysticism’ and make best sellers of books like The Da Vinci Code.

Paradoxically, the nature of God is another matter. It would hardly be human not to ponder the matter. We say the moon circles the earth, but in fact our earth and the moon circle a common centre of gravity called the barycentre. Man and God circle each other. Which is the major body?

I was charmed when I first read the encyclopedia’s description of Mu’tzilah, a major strand of Sunni theology at one time. Mu’tzilites held, it said, that God has essence but no attributes. I felt at home in the clear air of this thought, it seemed to me a noble and respectful attitude vis-Ю-vis God. So unlike the whingeing Christians lampooned by Nietzsche in The Genealogy of Morals: “The horrible chumminess with which they address their Maker . . .the nuzzling and pawing of God.”

But on reading again I saw that I had missed “no eternal attributes.” The reason Allah is seen as not having eternal attributes is that they, the attributes, would be eternal entities, and this would be polytheism. I suppose this makes a kind of logical sense, but then they go on to say—and this becomes increasingly unclear to me_that Allah knows, wills and acts by virtue of his essence and not through attributes of knowledge, will and power.

It’s worse than the Trinity.

Milar Kundera may be seen as a Mutzilite of sorts: In his short story Edward and God, Edward “longed for God, for God alone is relieved of the distracting obligation of APPEARING and can merely BE. For he solely constitutes (he Himself, alone and nonexistent) the essential opposite of this so inessential (but so much more existent) world.”

Bradley remarks, in Iris Murdoch’s novel The Black Prince, “The conventional notion of the Christian God pictures Him as HAVING created and being ABOUT to judge. A more intimate theology, and one more consistent with what we know of the nature of love, pictures a demonic force engaged in continuous creation and participation.”

Northrop Frye, in The Great Code, an examination of the English bible, says God may not be dead so much as entombed in a dead language, the words of which were “words of power.” There was a time, it seems, when satire could be lethal. Words have degenerated to become neutral tokens that can be exchanged for things.

Paul Tillich, the only theologian I can halfway understand, says God is the ground of our being. I suppose him to refer to the figure-ground aspect of perception. God is the ground against which we configure ourselves as human and mortal. This seems to a comparatively unlettered person like myself both plausible and contrived. Words, words and more words.

One thing seems clear to me: whatever we may say God is, it is not, it is an artifact, and somehow impertinent.

Physicists may come to understand and explain gravity. Or even_given time_time itself. Perhaps they will come to glimpse kalpas antecedent to the Big Bang. Who knows but what the drift of this universe may turn out to be demonstrably teleological after all. The mystery will still be there. I rather admire the ancient Jews who held that giving that unknown presence a name was a sort of lese majeste. In the Torah his name is still spelled `G.d.’ To confer a name on something or someone is, in a sense, to control. It is interesting that a common word for a person’s name is their `handle.’ And what are handles for but to clutch, to grasp, to hang onto? Naming brings the named out of somewhere to here. The pagans that the Jews encountered during their wanderings, gave local habitations and names to airy nothings.

But if we cannot talk about G.d without a handle of some sort, my own entry to the competition would be THAT WHICH. A religious person , I suppose, could think of it as THAT WHICH IS. (This would get on the nerves of an atheist even more abrasively than “God.” ) To my mind, THAT WHICH leaves (It? Him? Her?) room to breathe, room to create and re-create itself. I wonder how it would translate into Arabic or Hebrew.

But why, you will probably ask, do we have to talk about it in the first place? What does it matter? Most of the people I know are simply indifferent to the whole subject. So why talk about something that doesn’t exist? Who cares? they will ask, as though that terminates the discussion.

I care. I think it does matter. Monotheism is the groundswell of our western consciousness. We should ask and re-ask the questions that will never have answers. We were born to ask. Not to ask is to close down wonder and shut the door on possibility.

I cannot forget that most potent of questions: Why isn’t there nothing?