Chris (conjurdude) wrote,

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So I just started reading Me of Little Faith by Lewis Black. Literally, just started. Finished the introduction, mixed myself a drink, as Black would probably want me to. And I got to thinking...the latest theories from neuroscientists say that humans are hard-wired with a spot in the brain that lights up like a pinball machine whenever religious people get all relig-ified (I'm irreverent, you'll get used to it). From reading Carl Sagan, I learned a very beautiful word; numinous, which my Mac's dictionary conveniently defines as "having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity" but was originally coined by German theologian Rudolf Otto as being descriptive of that which is "wholly other" (link goes go Wikipedia's entry on numinous) and which itself carries no innate supernatural connotations.

Now as I was growing up, and even through the first year or so of college, I was, while not observant or practicing really, a fairly spiritual kid. Quotations that I collected through that time had a theological bent more often than not. But for whatever reason, I stopped being spiritual, and started questioning a lot of things. On a retreat in high school, called Kairos (another nifty word, Greek, and meaning "a time when conditions are right for the accomplishment of a crucial goal") I heard a notion that stuck with me for a while, that said something like "It's better to believe in a God you've found for yourself than a God you've been taught to believe in," the underlying premise being, I guess, that the fruits of a sincere spiritual journey will be of greater worth, both to yourself and whatever deity you profess to believe in, than simply following the pre-worn path of whatever faith you were brought up in.

Believe me, for a kid to hear this at a Jesuit high school was pretty liberating...and the more I thought on it, the more True it seemed to be (big-T Truth for me always carries with it connotations of a tuning fork in the heart of every human being that resonates whenever real Truth is stumbled upon. I tend to trust it more than other, small-t truths.)

The problem is, while I'd like to believe that there's some huge, mystical big-sky-man aspect of the numinous out there, it's never rung True for me. It's a belief system, sure, and one that's brought comfort to billions of people throughout history, but most faiths have seemed to me to be ways to justify old patterns of belief, rather than seeking to really understand anything. They're recitation versus exploration, they're, if you'll forgive the maxim, sitting there being safe ships in the harbor; that's not what ships are for.

No, for me, when I get glimpses of the numinous, it comes solely in the capability of the human mind and the human heart what? I'm at a's a whole slew of things...I was initially going to say "to empathize" but that's just a single slice of it. It's in the human capacity to simultaneously experience their humanity and to understand their humanity, I guess. I think of this, in a sort of Pollyanna-ish way, in the better capacities of humanity, rather than our inhumanity, though the inhumanity is all too apparent at times, but that's when the numinous seems most apparent. When we're listening to the better angels of our nature. When we're pursuing the Truth. Humanity is wondrous enough without ever having to drag anything supernatural into matters.

On re-reading, this starts to sound even to me like a bunch of hippie-ass, New Age claptrap, but I differentiate from that by pointing out that the New Age claptrap we're most acquainted with hit its stride in the 70s and 80s, when it was used to part the foolish from their money. in the 90s and 00s it's been gussied up as business strategy. The buzzwords have altered slightly but the notions are the same: throw out platitudes and easy-to-digest minims (as opposed to maxims) that justify existent behaviors, excuse the fear of change, and milk the attendees for obscene amounts of money. I, on the other hand, am giving all this away for free, I don't profess they're a one-size-fits-all solution, I don't think there's anything easy about trying to understand these things, and I don't allow existing behaviors to be justified away. For me, there's nothing more objectionable and despicable than willful ignorance. Which would explain my loathing of most institutionalized religion, as well as the Bush Administration. One of my later quotations written in my book o' deep thoughts, a few years into college, is from Isaac Asimov; "To surrender to ignorance and call it "God" as always been premature, and it remains premature today." Whether that ignorance is in the service of Jehovah or Mammon, it remains ignorance, and it remains beneath my contempt.
Tags: deep thoughts

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