I recently read a discussion in which both of the participants expressed atheism, but one had a softer application of that way of thinking, in which he did not seek to ignore religion, but to eventually phase it out. He called it a “soft atheism.” Well, it was hardly a barn-burner, as the participants differed only by slight degrees. It’s on the level of two intelligent design gradualists speculating on how much of the creative process was autodrive and how much was the hand of God.
I read that discussion and reflected on my own religious experience. To tell me there is no God is as ludicrous as trying to convince me there’s no such thing as Oklahoma. My own experience tells me it is a reality that I must account for as I deal with the universe. The existence of God is not a matter of personal choice: it is a fact as stark and insurmountable as the moon.
To me, the arrogance of Western Civilization demands that there be nothing unseen in order to sustain its thought processes. All depends upon the discovery and the eventual arrival of the human mind at the frontier of the infinite. The West demands of its participants a towering yearning towards the goal of human supremacy. Even its major religious turmoil – the Reformation and Wars of Religion – was fought over the notion that perhaps man needed one less intermediary between him and God than was supposed in the Roman Catholic dogma; a notion that can, to me, be clearly placed on a continuum between the statements in that article and the Renaissance, which itself was a questioning regarding who an ultimate authority should be, man or God?
But in that quest to place man at the head of all things rational, there is no safe place for any thought that raises a question of man’s ultimate destiny to be a God unto himself, with no need for any other concept of God. In spite of eyewitnesses with testimony to the contrary, God must be dismissed as a non-factual construction of minds affected this way and that by certain chemical reactions in the body and mind. Ultimately, the same must be done for other spiritual concepts such as love and devotion. Either they are outputs of biochemical processes or they are simply myths.
For, to me and to many others, God is synonymous with and equivalent to love. I find no explanation for my love, or for the love of others, save that I love because I love. Biochemistry tells me that infatuation is explainable by a rush of chemicals that lasts from 18-36 months. Is my body somehow faulty and in need of a cure if I continue to experience the symptoms of infatuation towards my wife some 27 years after meeting her? Or are there deeper, spiritual mechanics at work that do not fit tidily into the notions of man and his place in the universe as determined by The West?
A friend of mine recently linked me to a document that amounted to an 87-page compendium of arguments regarding the grounds for deeming my religion to be inconsistent with itself and therefore false. Prior to any factual refutation of those arguments, I have in front of me not only my personal witnessing of God, but that of my ancestors and people of their day. God spoke to me, and he spoke to them. We are witness to the fact that God is God.
Is the experience a repeatable one? Absolutely, but the preparation is non-trivial. Much as one does not simply pile up enough cut stone and labor and proceed to construct a Rome in a day, one does not simply say, “All right. Let God speak to me, too, then I shall believe in his existence.” The belief in his existence is a prerequisite to experiencing his existence. It is not enough to believe, either: the mind must be ready to receive a word from God, and that involves a re-ordering of influences in one’s life. Just as moving quickly through a forest while listening to music through headphones and looking only at a cell phone screen will render one incapable of noticing the birds in the trees, so exposing ourselves to stimuli that diminish our spiritual sensitivities will render us incapable of noticing God.
But I and many others have prepared ourselves, and we have experienced the truth that God is God.
There are those that had once been prepared to receive God, but who participated in activities that diminished their spiritual sensitivities. They are those that believe no more. There are those that received God in one way, but, through different thoughts born of their experiences, now receive him in a different way. There are those that never truly prepared to receive God, who think they have prepared correctly, who then testify quite vocally and sincerely their experience that God is not God. So be it. But I will not let a blind man try to tell me that colors are ultimately imaginary and that I really should focus on the good things that I associate with colors rather than the colors themselves. Likewise, one who squints or closes his eyes or refuses to look in a certain direction cannot inform me that I am in error. I know what I know, because I have prepared myself in the way I have been told will produce a successful reproduction of the results of others’ experience with God. I prepared and I let myself be patient, and the word of God came to me.
A close analogy to this to me is that of a hunter or a fisherman or a farmer. To succeed as any of those, there is much preparation, but there is also great patience involved. One must not only have the right gear, not only be in the right place at the right time, but also have the right frame of mind to be patient, to understand that every rustle in the bush is not a target, every tightening of the line is not a bite, and that no plant will bear fruit overnight.
Indeed, consider further the experience of the farmer, for that is a frequent analogy in religious teachings. Weeds can spring up among the desirable plants, and they are nearly indistinguishable in their early stages. Droughts can pass over a land, leaving barren the fields of hope. Vermin can devour the fruit in the field. All these and more can plague the farmer: the patient among their number will abide another season. The impatient will abandon the profession. I’ll end the analogy there.
No, I won’t. The supermarket, where all those non-farmers will get their food, is itself a massive demonstration of faith that, despite a massive amount of unknowns, the food will be there when we desire it, and all will be well. It is a massive expression of that ideal from The West, that man will triumph through better organizational methods, better scientific knowledge, and better understanding of how a society should work.
But who does not trust in mankind the way The West does so powerfully in its supermarkets and other economic structures? Survivalists, those who hoard up food and other things because they suspect that the whole business of The West is capable of sudden implosion, are certainly those that do not share the belief that others will provide food for them. They want to be self-sufficient in that category. So it can be with God: rather than trusting that the beliefs of others will lend a salubrious effect to eventually calm and heal humanity of its rages and woes, those that choose to believe in God are those that wish to be self-sufficient in the healing and calming categories.
There are those that profess to believe in God that offer neither healing nor calming to humanity: I assure you that such persons are not true believers in God.
Anyway, back to the idea of Survivalists: they certainly do not trust other men to be their salvation in the world. Before the wave of millennialist defection from the trust in The West that we see today, however, there were others that chose to not only keep a supply of food always handy, just in case man made mistakes about supply chain management: They also kept a faith in God handy, just in case man made mistakes about biochemical determinism explaining all the phenomena associated with spiritual experiences.
I am one of those people, and my ancestors were numbered among those people that did not place trust in the arm of man. I suppose I can say that I come from a long line of defectors from Western Civilization. I can look back to a will written in 1745 in which William Webb passes down to his descendants a testimony of his grandfather’s about the reality of God, the imminent day when he would restore his church, and the reality that we can all join with God after this mortal existence, even if we were born before the day that God’s truth was again restored to the earth.
I read that 1745 document and I see in it a powerful wording of basic Mormon doctrines. I do say “powerful”, for there is a spiritual effect upon me as I read it. It is more, far more, than the feeling I have when I realize that I am correct in a guess about something through someone else’s confirmation of experience that I was not privy to. No, there is more to that feeling I have and I can only say it is through preparation that I experience that feeling. But I see my faith, the tenets of my religion, expressed by a voice from the dust. Now what am I to do with that other than face my religion and either accept the truths I know it embodies, or to reject the truths and create a paradox in my life in which I must actively deny what I know to be true? Absent your own personal experience with God, you do not have such a dilemma. Absent an experience with God, you cannot have such a dilemma. And, knowing that there are those that do not share my religion but yet believe in God, this experience will confirm to you the portions of your own faith that intersect with mine.
For me and my family line, most of us have defected from a bargain with The West. Even my relatives that don’t share my core religious beliefs still persist in a suspicion that The West is not as permanent as some would make it out to be. The Webbs that I know tend to hoard a little food, a cache of weapons, perhaps more ammunition than may be deemed necessary for recreational purposes… now, does this mean that I’m from a distinguished line of nutcases that shares a common delusion that Western Civilization is headed for a collapse, which underlines a possible biochemical explanation about why I identify so strongly with both The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as well as economic observers that point to flaws in the system? Perhaps my family are all nutcases – and I am further delusional in imagining that, somehow, we are distinguished.
Or, perhaps, we might be sensitive to the flaws in The West because of our experiences and those of the people around us. My family on my Father’s side comes from Arizona. If you’ve ever spent time in that state, you know it to be a place where, generally speaking, there is a strong sentiment towards opting-out of Western Civilization, particularly in regard to how California used the structures of The West to appropriate rather a lot of water from the Colorado River. Dissent from The West runs high in Arizona, and that dissent is born of a common experience there. When I discovered that dissent, I found that it fit in with my own dissent from The West.
My own personal dissent from The West began long before I joined up with the Mormons on an official basis. I recall the powerful effect that James Burke’s “Connections” series had upon me – the first episode most strongly. In it, Burke asked what happens to us when the lights go out because technology itself fails. It’s happened before, and then the lights came on again. What happens if they don’t come back on? What then?
Burke asks a very rational question that casts a shadow of doubt over the idea of The West as a perpetual expression of human civilization. Through technological arguments, he constructed a scientific extension of Oswald Spengler’s assessment that The West, like other civilizations, would experience a downward cycle as surely as it experienced an upward one: an ending as surely as it experienced a beginning.
And what of the thoughts of The West, after the civilization that gave them impetus is no more? I believe that when the noise and distraction of The West is no more, we will have a great stillness around us. In that stillness, it will likely become much easier to prepare to hear the word of God. And, while I know there are people that would deny the existence of God to his face, a great many more people will one day affirm the existence of God without having seen his face at all.