Discuss Life and Religion with Tan Tai Wei

Transcendent “Necessary” Being and Ground of All: Reason of Belief 1

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So, if secularists and agnostics, like theists and other believers in transnatural and/or transcendent Being, require “faith”, the former arguably even more, what reasons have the latter to say theirs isn’t “blind faith”? (just as atheists and all in their camp have also to have reasons for their stand. This is not usually realised, the usual assumption being that only the believer in God needs to “apologize”). First, let me proffer the following.

Let’s begin with what we know ourselves to be. We are subjects of experiences, and our experiences involve our responses to what seem to us (and in normal circumstances, we have dependable grounds to take as what truthfully seem to us) as objects of a real world impinging on our consciousness. The patterns of impressions we receive we interpret, normally mostly correctly, ascribing the meanings we are constrained by the objects of our experiences to so do to them; and therefore we respond to our environment, and at interpersonal relations and communications we initiate and receive meaningful responses visavis other persons.

As HD Lewis reminds us, as finite beings, such are  the experiences we can have, in terms of which only we may acribe meanings and truths of the objective worlds that impinge on us. If beyond our normal experiences, there exists,  and impinging on us,  Transcendent Being, then we are constrained to so sensitize our awareness as to respond  appropriately. There can be no building of towers to alter our status as finite beings in order for us to reach transcendent Being. God communicates with us and “draws” us towards  Himself from within the mode of experience He has capacitated us. “Revelation” depends crucially upon man’s effective sensitising to divine “leadings” in revelatory events and other impingings for his attending. And even paranormal experiences, dreams and visions are only impressions within the finite realm of man’s consciousness, and they similar call for wise and truthful interpreting and acribing of meaning, not necessarily in terms of “Revelation” since man  dreams dreams and sees visions within his finite, purely natural experiences also. There can be no direct “encounter” with God even in outer space, as those Russian astronauts unwisely expected.

So we should expect, if indeed  transcendent Being exists, that an important avenue of our coming to know  is dependent upon His impinging on our consciousness and  our sensitising to the impingement. Now, ordinary people like ourselves, rather than expect such impingements in our own individual lives to be significant enough to affirm both for ourselves and others the existence of transcendent Reality, should survey the vast traditions of human experiences  in order to identify them. Once they have been located writ large amongst corporate humanity, we might then be able to see incidents indentified within our own puny experiences and histories as being  continuations of those large  patterns of significance, together with which our experiences too might assume similar significance.

Now, as regards such impingements, I refer to the expert theological and philosophical historian, CH Dodd, especially his extremely readable and educational popularising books “The Bible Today” and “The Authority of the Bible”. Dodd brought out, in line with a whole tradition of similar expert analyses by others, the inexplicableness, except explained in terms of divine intervention, of the remarkable history of those clans of nomads that became Israel, sandwiched between powerful civilisations throughout the ancient world, yet surviving and maintaining its identity, eventually giving humanity that remarkable tradition of prophetic experiences, interpretings of remarkable events, and consequent pronouncements of purported divine meanings and messages, culminating in that great event hailed as  “the Word made flesh”,  proffering   a justice that coheres with forgiveness and love. (We often ask how compatible is the concept of a loving and good God with evil in the world, but don’t we need also to ask, given humanity as we know it, how  such good lives and insights have become without God to explain them?)

Also affirming those acclaimed “divine visitations” are the purported “miracles”, including the “supreme” miracle of the Resurrection. Now, even though the ancients were too believing and many claimed miracles seem meaningless and without point, it cannot be denied that in the history of religion, “miraculous” happenings have been associated with the activities and lives of specially sainted persons. And so the Jews who rejected Jesus accused him of  sorcery,  and the spectacular rise of  Christianity, in several centuries  to conquer Rome, and eventually to become the vehicle of preservation  of “western” culture through the “dark ages” giving rise to the “protestant spirit” and modern science, etc, and Islam, replacing ancient crude Arabic polytheism with belief in Allah the one, merciful God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,  seem hard to explain without  “divine intervention” such as the experience of Paul on the road to Damascus, where he “saw” the resurrected Jesus. (We have Paul’s own testimony of this in his own pen, and thus he vouches for arguably similar experiences of those, including some five hundred together, who claimed also to have  “encountered” Him but whose experiences we get from the writings of others.) And, as Dodd observed, the prophetic “encounters” of God typified in their hearings of “thus sayeth the Lord”, parallelled by Jesus’  proclaiming “I (the Lord”) say unto you”, were transmitted to us as defining part of a corporate experience of a predominant human culture, but set within an inclusive, total  human significance of an universal beginning, starting with “Adam”, meaning merely “man”,  and “Eve”, meaning “life”. And so, we should expect, when surveying the other religious traditions of mankind similar “visitations” even if variations of human responses to them would account for differences and quality of cultural intrepretings of them.

Such has been the experience and consciousness of humankind into which we have been born, and we must come to terms with it in order to realize our humanity. It is a large and crucial part of what has been called  “the great conversation of mankind”, engaging in which  our upbringing and education as humans depends.

But isn’t it all thus far a matter of interpreting, which might be wrong, this being also true even if we do discern, though many don’t, similar “significant” events in our own  life encounters which the corporate human experience seems to complement? In my next posting, I shall try to set all that is said here within a context that might render the theistic claim compelling.


Written by Tan Tai Wei

December 9, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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