I have recently imagined myself standing before a man of good sense, deep learning and positive engagement with humanity, and professing to that person my basic beliefs. A profession of faith. A sort of Shahada. Once, in a much less comfortable public situation than mine, Martin Luther found himself setting out his position in similar fashion, concluding with the statement, “here I stand.” Here, some hundreds of years later, is where I stand :
I cannot believe in some divine eye holding me in sight or mind as I go about my business, among all those billions of others going about theirs.
I cannot believe in some figure sitting, or whatever posture that figure might like to adopt, through eternity, looking over His Creation, grieving for individual sorrows, granting individual prayers, punishing individual sins, and so on and so on.
I cannot believe in that figure taking souls unsinful or redeemed onto His knee at the end of it all, and finding a house for them in Eternity, in some limitless out-of-world housing estate.
But I do believe, since I must, in the plain fact and astonishment and wonder and marvel of life and Creation. There is no escape from this self-evident belief so long as I am alive, or life is animate.
And by Creation I mean, not just the created universe, whose vastness and nature and wonder are in themselves actually beyond rational belief or measurement, but also the moment of Creation, when nothing became something.
That force behind Creation, beyond my comprehension, I am bound to worship. I am part of this Creation and that is a wonder to me. If I do not live in wonder and worship, then I am not really alive, not really taking in the full fact of life. If I live a moment not wondering and worshipping, then I am having a bad moment, a moment in which I am switched off from and out of touch with reality.
So there is a force of Creation and by definition, since there is only one Creation, there can be only one such force. It is beyond our comprehension. But we can see that it is Creation. And Creation acts and reveals itself through evolution, and shows its work in the procreation by which species continue and in the effort and tendency to grow and heal across all of nature, wherever there is illness or hurt.
So there is a force. It made and is behind the fact of life, the fact of existence across the universe, its planets and moons and immeasurable distances, and the fact of mortal life, and multiplicity of life, on at least this one planet in the universe.
We can call this force reality, the core, the ultimate, the source of being, Alpha and Omega, the Word, the Light, the Truth, Yahweh, God, Allah. We use whatever name and names seem right or familiar or otherwise acceptable to us. To apprehend the force behind the name, the wonder of it, the bewildering fact of it, we surely cannot be in any state other than bewilderment and wonder and worship and gratitude.
One step further :
I am I, one Self. I say I, meaning my Self. I preside in me, thinking and feeling, inside this Self, this Being, this Being Me. There is no other I in the universe whose experience I exactly share. Even though there are millions and millions of people who all say “I,” not one of them is “I” as I am, or will die as I myself must, in one place and one time, neither of which I can presently forsee.
I find myself in a particular body, at this particular place and time, and I look out of this skull and see the rest of the universe outside of me, under my eye, and I cannot see the back of my head. I can see the backs of your heads but not of mine. I experience myself, therefore, as the centre of the universe, looking out at it so long as I am able to look out.
But of course I know, at whatever level and depth of knowledge I am capable of, that you are no less the centre of the universe than I am. As a child I might think otherwise. The only centre I knew then was me. You were altogether unreal and fantasy-ridden, either a part of me, or an object to me. But I grew and – at least sometimes, in my better moments – I became awake to the fact that you are as real, as subjective, as vital a centre as I am, both of us part of Creation and centres of it. That realisation I am willing to call Love. It is as wonderful as, and is an aspect of, Creation, made of it, and in realisation of it.
And of course, in and through being awake to you, and the wonder and mystery of your equal centrality, I am bound to behave as properly and carefully towards you as is in me to do.
I know the above leaves out all sorts of pressing questions and will seem naïve to theologians of all the various faiths. And people will want to categorise what I’m saying. Oh he’s a deist. Or a humanist. Or an agnostic. But I don’t want to own any of those terms. I am just describing what I see in front of me.
Of course I know that far better thinkers than I am have struggled with these questions all through history. And every faith has people deeply versed in their own theology and collections of thought and revelation which makes them sure and certain that theirs is the only true faith, and all others are either lesser or wicked or both. And that goes for the different literatures and collections of utterances, all convinced that God was speaking only there and at that time, and through this voice-box and not that one.
But that is the wrong place to put yourself. I will not defer to such people, not because I do not respect the depth of their learning or devotion, but because I do not respect the attitude you find in all faiths, that my correctness gives me the right to despise or even kill you for your incorrectness. Such attitudes and behaviours all through history and continuing in the present are a direct denial of the basic tenets and values of all those faiths and it means that no one of any faith has the right to say that they and they only can claim to have true Faith. Faith is merely human and merely reflects our human nature. All we have is our own flawed nature and by our natures all our respective and often competing faiths and sects have been flawed, all equally.
So though guilty of presumption, I nevertheless have no hesitation in refusing to defer to anyone claiming to hold the one and only, the true faith. None of us is adequate to make such a claim. All our horribly flawed histories, though, contain gold that can help a bit to protect us from our inadequacies too. So let’s share the gold in each other’s differences, the different traditions. Let us be generous and humble.
For my son Joe, with love.