“Philosophy, enticed by the promise of the known, has often surrendered the treasures of higher incomprehension to poets and mystics, although without the sense of the ineffable there are no metaphysical problems, no awareness of being as being, of value as value.”
~Joshua Abraham Heschel
In moving forward, we must consider what doubt should be used on in our own lives. The reason I started in the general sense during Doubt as Liberation is to allow doubt as a concept to inhabit your consciousness, to let it gravitate to the areas that are shaky and smoky, to let us sit with that doubt; for now we pick up the instruments of our work, prodding our assumptions and constructions to see if there be frailty or falseness cluttering our world of knowing–our epistemology.
It is my hope that you use the instrument of doubt to deconstruct and abolish the ideas, habits, and beliefs that contribute to your own unique corruption that begins in the inner person and has direct implications for the outer person; however, I can little hope for this in you, my readers, if I am not willing to enter into this process with you. Therefore, a specific example of doubt in action is required.
But before I give that example, I want to ground this article. You have found the Providentia conversation, which will dance between philosophy and religion in the hope of it becoming more than either of these–at the center is a desire for an authentic spirituality that explores the Divine Mystery, the Ineffable Presence that we all sense in some way yet often lack the language to explore. If this is your first article, go back and read Doubt as Liberation because that precedes this story.
While I could not call myself religious in the traditional sense of tribal exclusivity–I believe true religion is about encountering the transcendent God, not devising and imposing a system of religion in the world–I do have a heritage of religious tradition: evangelical Christian; but, this is my tribe of birth, not who I am in essence. However, I have always been interested in religion. In my youth, my tradition was the only one I knew, the only truth I believed; it was right, all others wrong. Slowly I began to suspect something faulty in this: a self-righteousness and pride of character. I never outwardly rebelled or denied my tradition and religion entirely, I just let it slowly slip from my person, allowing ambiguous identity to cover me so that I could see the world through the eyes of others, so that I would not be hurt by walking from tribe to tribe. This is not doubt, this is a slow death. If one sloughs off all identity the end result is not freedom, it’s phantasm–I became a ghost.
Despite my increasingly apparitional self, it was here in my chameleonic cage that I first doubted who I was and where I was; in this place that I faced despair. Despair in my own ambiguous existence is what gave me the hint that I must become something real, something true. And that identity did not have to be universally true–I didn’t need to have all the answers or be perfect–it just needed to be personally true. This is not relativism. It’s called searching for one’s soul.
Who am I, this self that speaks?
I believe that the answer to that question is not something we can define for ourselves, much as we would like to do so. This is the false path, the road where we corrupt our true nature. This is the smooth street of following our self-serving desires for public acceptance, consummate power, and impenetrable security rather than taking the arduous foot-path of our self-transcending abilities to accept without condition, to give out rather than gather in, and to venture into the unknown when the known is all we have. I felt the utter waste of my false masks, the meaningless expression of each false identity.
So I came back to religion in its philological and etymological root, in Latin religare, as related to the ligaments that bind together the human body; thus, in essence, a re-fashioning, re-forming, or re-birth. I came back to religion to live again embodied in a true identity so that I did not have to ghost this world forever. Yet I did not come back to religion to become religious, rather I came back to find the divine, the true God, not the god whom I fashioned for my own purposes, which were and are as inconstant as the wind, nor the god that I was told existed. And, perhaps most important, because of a kind of ancient hell that had overlapped my life, I desired to know if the true God was as evil as I feared: a universal tyrant who gave life only to torture, and worse, took pleasure in the pain.
I desired an experience of God. That experience is still unfolding in my life. I still yearn and fear experiencing the ineffable presence. Anyone who tells you the divine is all love and that approaching is easy, commonplace, or all butterflies and flowers has not the faintest idea of what they speak. Love grows in relation, but there is always a fear manifested as awe in the human response when divinity is in proximity. No fear means no love means indifference. This is false religion.
Now, I believe this the flaw of all religious systems. Once the system is in place there is a tendency to become comfortable. At a certain point the system becomes divine for the people in the system, and then it is no longer merely the reference point to the true divine, who is always greater than and beyond the system. If the religion does not allow doubt within the system, the next generation will go elsewhere to process the doubt that inevitably forms in their minds as they grow. And that journey can hurt like hell, with many staying in doubt as default the rest of their lives.
I could not do this.
So I began to reexamine the faith that was once one of my many masks. I broke that mask, and told myself that if there was anything true in this old faith then the old mask would turn into something meaningful to me at that time. Like many, I started reading the Bible again because these scriptures are my heritage. By reading these scriptures I came to realize that the divine being who created all things is not evil. For most of our skepticism about God revolves around two issues: the absence of the presence of God or the existence of real evil. The two issues attend to people differently based on their experience in this world. I questioned the evil I could see. It would seem that if there were no God, then evil would exist. Since evil does exist there is no God.
Would you agree?
I believe wholeheartedly that the God who by existing negates evil is not a true reality. We know this intuitively, yet forget after popular religion continues to tell us that it is reality. Yet, this does not eliminate the being of God, merely our popular category of a God that allows no evil in the world that is created and sustained by divine grace.
However, what would it look like if God gave true freedom to the universe? Freedom implies liberty to do all, even that which goes against the universal blueprint of holistic wellbeing. If God were a tyrant, we would not be free to do evil, or be affected by evil; nor would be free to do good, or be affected by good. We would simply do as dictated. God, then, is no tyrant. In fact, the freedom of God is more extravagant than any freedom of human construction; because of this, and only because of this, is there an authentic invitation to become who we truly are.
Yet so often religion acts the tyrant, and thus, frames God as tyrant to the world of people.
When this happens, the world of people doubt God.
Still, hidden in the ineffable presence of the divine is our true identity, and it’s an identity that does not force upon other human beings it’s own likeness, the identity given to us, but accentuates the beauty of creation like a flower that flourishes in due time, and if any did dare deride it for being true to the vital identity within, the scorn would only set their false words in sharper relief as being truly hollow, like husks that fall upon the ground and drift away and come to nothing.
This I sense because doubt tells me the contrary is absurd.
This I believe because I experience truth in the Mystery of all being, the originator of all wonder.